To its credit, Google continues to try and make its services more social, even though social media and social networking in general don’t seem to come easily to the search giant. In its latest move, the company has launched a major redesign of Google News that adds a number of features, including the ability to share clusters of news stories, and to vote on news sources, so that the service can customize what users see when they go to the home page. The intent seems to be to create a kind of personalized Google newspaper, but is that what users really want?
Google’s news page has had personalization features for some time, including the ability to create custom sections (and share them), as well as the ability to filter out certain topics from the default view. And Google has used a visitor’s location — if they sign in to Google and allow it to do so — to provide local news and weather as well. The new features take the site’s personalization and customization a step further, however, by allowing users to continually adjust the sources that Google is pulling from. And while a “recommended” section was part of the site before (along with other sections for world news, sports, etc.), now what the site calls “news for you” is a main portion of the page.
There’s no question that Google’s changes take the service even further into competition with the newspaper sites that it draws content from, a tension that has caused outbursts of rage from media moguls such as News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and former Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell, both of whom accuse the company of “stealing” content from publishers. If someone gets a personalized stream of relevant news from Google, will they be even less likely to visit a newspaper site? That’s the fear many media outlets have. And emphasizing local results is going to increase that tension, since local has so far been one of the areas that was relatively immune to Google’s dominance.
When it comes to some of the customization and social features, however, it’s worth wondering whether users of Google News even want those kinds of tools from Google (it seems that many do not, judging by the comments on this Nieman Journalism Lab post). On the customization front, the company has tried in the past to add similar features to its regular search pages without much success, including a “thumbs up” feature called Search Wiki that was later mothballed (or at least significantly remodeled), in part because of lack of use. Is news search fundamentally different in that sense from regular search?
Another open question is whether users will want to share the headlines that they see on Google via Twitter and Facebook, or whether they will choose to do that from the actual homepages of the sites those stories come from — or from social services like Digg, which is undergoing its own redesign in order to become more social, or services such as DailyMe. I know my own use of Google News consists primarily of skimming it for topics or headlines that interest me, which I then follow — I don’t want to customize my sources continually, nor do I necessarily want to share the clusters of stories it provides (to be honest, I get most of my news via Twitter anyway).
What might make the service a bit more interesting is if Google did what journalism professor Jay Rosen suggested on Twitter and provided a ranked list of the news sources that users decide to vote up or down. But that kind of opening of the kimono isn’t likely to come from Google. So do the new features in Google News appeal to you? Let us know in the comments. Meanwhile, here’s a video overview of the changes, which should be rolling out to Google users over the next week.