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Summary:

Google has already disrupted plenty of markets — search and online advertising being just two of them — and is trying hard to disrupt many others, including mobile. So why is the company so backward when it comes to the way it treats the online news business?

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Google has already disrupted plenty of markets — search and online advertising being just two of them — and is trying hard to disrupt many others, including mobile. So why is the company so backward when it comes to the news business? Dan Frommer, a former writer with Business Insider and Forbes who left to start his own one-man shop called SplatF, writes about how Google has refused to index his blog in Google News because it isn’t a corporate entity with multiple authors. Aren’t we past that by now? If not, we should be. This is just another example of how Google has failed to take advantage of Google News and its real disruptive potential.

In his post, Frommer describes how he applied to be included in the Google News index, and got a letter back from the company saying he didn’t meet the specifications for inclusion. And what are those specifications exactly? According to the email he received:

We don’t include sites that are written and maintained by one individual. We currently only include articles from sources that could be considered organizations, generally characterized by multiple writers and editors, availability of organizational information, and accessible contact information.

As Frommer notes, this distinction seems more than a little ridiculous in an age when anyone can become a publisher — not just with easy blogging tools like WordPress (please see disclosure below) or Tumblr, but with Twitter and Facebook and many other services. As Om and I have pointed out a number of times, the “democracy of distribution” that this creates is a fundamentally disruptive phenomenon for publishing, and I would argue one that is also fundamentally beneficial, not just for journalism but for society as a whole. So why isn’t Google News interested in being part of that?

News no longer comes just from organizations

Think about any recent major news event, and imagine how our picture of that event would have been different if all we had been able to look at were reports from media organizations as defined by Google. The revolutions in Egypt, the death of Osama bin Laden, the turmoil in Libya: Individuals either blogging or posting to Facebook or on Twitter played a key role in the shaping of the news around those events, just as they did after the earthquake in Japan or the disaster in Haiti. So why does Google News give such a preferred spot to news from organizations?

Even within the technology sphere in particular, individual voices are a crucial part of the news flow, whether it’s John Gruber’s blog Daring Fireball or something like blogger-turned-VC Michael Arrington’s Uncrunched. When someone wants to see what the technology news landscape looks like at any given moment, they usually turn to Techmeme (disclosure: I consider Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera to be a friend), which indexes not just blogs written by just about anyone, but recently added tweets that are related to the news. Surely Techmeme isn’t the only entity that can do this?

This isn’t the only element of Google News that seems antiquated; the site also continues to segregate blogs into a section of their own — apart from the “real” news outlets — so that you have to search specifically for blogs you are looking for. This might have made sense a few years ago, but it makes virtually no sense at all now. The result is that blogs written by reporters at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal  and elsewhere are put in this category, while less reputable outlets show up in the “real” news section. And the definition seems fluid at best: is Cnet  a blog? is Huffington Post a blog? What difference does it make, other than the tool they use to publish content?

We want the whole news, not just a subset of it

The real point is that Google has the ability to show us the whole news — not just the news that comes from established entities, but theoretically from everywhere (although the Twitter part is problematic because the company is no longer giving Google a feed for its “real-time news” search, and it’s not clear when that will resume). I’d much rather have that than Google trying to somehow improve the news and get people to focus on what it thinks are the important stories, which Larry Page has suggested.

But isn’t Google trying to separate authoritative news from the regular noise of the blogosphere? Perhaps. But there is an easy way to do that, which is to apply the same kind of algorithmic filtering to news outlets that Google does to search. The company’s whole reason for existing is to make split-second decisions about search results based on signals such as linking, site reputation, content quality and so on. Why should I care whether the result I get is from a one-man blog or from a giant entity like CNN? In many cases, I would actually rather have the former than the latter, since much of the latter is going to be rehashed newswire copy.

Google News has had a somewhat contentious relationship with much of the mainstream press, what with people like media mogul Rupert Murdoch accusing it of “stealing” their content. So maybe Google is just gun-shy about disrupting the industry — or maybe the news business just isn’t that appealing, and so Google doesn’t give it enough resources. The result is that Google News is a pale shadow of what it could be, and news consumers who actually want to be informed are forced to go elsewhere.

Disclosure: Automattic, the maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Sandy Honig and George Kelly

  1. The word “blog” shouldn’t even be in use, aside from denoting a publishing format. That’s my remaining quibble with Google News, that even though, for example, our site is the news leader in its market, our listing has to wear the scarlet letter (blog) after its name while our competition, just because it kills trees as part of its publishing process, does not. Hasn’t hurt us but just looks weird. I do give them credit for letting us join the Google News club years ago. Took two or three rounds, though, and proof that we had multiple contributors.

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    1. newspapers create a demand for paper, which INCREASES the number of trees on this planet. ARe you so stupid as to think that cheap newspaper is printed on amazonian rainforest trees? No. They are made with fast growth trees from tree farms that exist SOLELY to supply the paper industry. Take away the demand for that paper, and you take away the profits from that land. And the owner of that land will sell those hundreds of acres to a developer who will raze all those trees and build a parking lot or mini-mall.

      Oh, and…you are not a news leader in the market. You are a site that has to spam Digg with paid for submissions to make a tiny profit. You are not journalists. You are unemployed failures who are trying to supplement your welfare checks

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  2. Great post.

    Just to slightly expand on my reply Tweet to @mathewi, I feel like one thing Google News could do to address some of this would be to create almost a “verified” class of news sites/blogs that are included in the official index. Would obviously require an application and appeal process, and probably some staff, but as the post points out, there should be a way for legitimate sites and writers (like Dan Frommer, Gruber, etc.) to have their work included in this very important and living database of news and information.

    Don’t feel like opening up the blog floodgates, removing that category and just including everything, from anyone, would be a good or productive step – there’s a reason those results are filtered out, and it’s helpful. But limiting credible and included sources of “news” to institutional outlets/organizations is clearly a dated approach. Dan posted better charts on Apple’s Q4 earnings to SplatF than I saw anywhere else, along with a great take on the results. Doesn’t seem organic or viable to filter out those results because he doesn’t have staff or overhead.

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  3. They don’t understand what news is. The multi-author requirement doesn’t actually require anything other than a list of people who are said to be on staff. All a site needs is a page saying containing staff names and minibios with a visible link from the homepage and they swallow it hook, line and sinker as many indie publishers who’ve invented fake staff members have told me!

    Their attitude about blogs is stupid because certain blogs are included, like GigaOm, reinforcing a tech-centric, old boys club hierarchy though I think you guys are a great source of news.

    They’ve also downgraded press releases so I now regularly have the experience of searching through a hundred or more supposedly related news pieces that are all rewrites or reprints of press releases while having difficulty finding the original.

    Those high SAT scores don’t mean sh*t!

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  4. So..Google has disrupted “several markets” you say, but the only two you can come up with are ones that they entered OVER A DECADE AGO. Not to mention, they didn’t really disrupt search. Yahoo was well on its way out before Google took over. So…now you are left with just one. And a whole bunch of failures at TRYING to disrupt markets in the last 10 years.

    Seriously gigaom…time to stop sucking Sergey’s cock and living in fantasyland where everything Google has released has been a huge game changer that everyone loved.

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  5. By the way..why would Google News disrupt print when they are not even the leader in ONLINE news? Neither in quality (as even THEY admit) and not even close in terms of traffic? (Yahoo News DESTROYS them in traffic.)

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  6. Many small local newspapers would be disqualified by this requirement as well.

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  7. @Matthew: Bloggers are not reporters. 99.9999999% of blogging is opinion or rehashes of news that originates from more reputable news organizations. I agree 100% with what google is doing. But since you are a blogger I can see why you wouldn’t.

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