Google News: The biggest missed opportunity in media right now

15 Comments

Almost every time I talk to a journalist who spends a lot of time online and the subject of Google News comes up, there is a shared sense of frustration: namely, frustration over how little the site has changed over the years since it launched, and how much more it could do if Google really wanted it to — what a powerful tool it could be. I was reminded of this again when I came across a presentation that a German designer came up with that involved a wholesale redesign and re-thinking of what Google News is and does.

I found George Kvasnikov’s presentation because of a post at the design and culture site PSFK — the original was posted on the design community Behance a couple of months ago, after what Kvasnikov said was a lot of brainstorming followed by about five weeks worth of wireframing and other mockup-related work. What he came up with isn’t perfect by any means, but it has some interesting elements — and at least it is an attempt to bring Google News kicking and screaming into the future, instead of looking like it was embalmed not long after it launched.

Better looking

For starters, I think Kvasnikov improved the overall look and user interface of Google News, by making better use of images, by grouping related news stories more effectively, and by making the navigation a little more obvious. I’m not crazy about some of the design elements, and I think it could come off as a little cluttered, but it looks light-years better than what’s there now:

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As part of the redesign, Kvasnikov also introduced a new feature that would make Google News even more useful: He calls it “coverages,” but a better term might be “topics” or “story clusters.” The idea is that readers could create their own clusters of related stories on specific topics — and then Google News would presumably use that information to recommend new items to add, and then those sections would gradually grow smarter over time.

Smart personalization

This type of personalization is something that Google News is still not very good at, which is kind of surprising given the thousands of PhDs who work there. Admittedly, tweaking those kinds of settings isn’t something most casual readers are going to do, just as most people probably never spent much time creating “circles” in Google+, but for those who did, it could become a useful feature — and maybe it could automatically find typos in headlines.

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Better still, Kvasnikov’s redesign would have Google News automatically suggest related stories on a news topic that are from a different perspective than the original — as a way of encouraging readers to expose themselves to alternative viewpoints. This is a little like a project that came out of the recent Al Jazeera news hackathon, called Perspectives, which proposed a similar feature for news sites. Another similar one was called Re-Frame, which was designed to bring forward local viewpoints on international stories like Ebola.

Social content

What I like even better is that Kvasnikov suggests that Google News could surface commentary on news events from individuals who are actually on the scene — by searching or filtering through social media and other sources. This would be hugely useful, in my opinion. Google could quite easily provide a consumer-level version of what Storyful does, by aggregating all of the images and video and tweets related to a news event, or it could just license Storyful.

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Kvasnikov adds another unique suggestion for Google News, which is the ability for users to add their own coverage to a developing topic or news event. It isn’t very fleshed out, but this would be a truly radical concept for Google to implement. Imagine if Google could start to pull in the kind of content that now goes to Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram. The company dipped a toe into this area with an interesting experiment called Google Comments, in which staffers actually sought out quotes from newsmakers, but it died a fairly quick death.

Why doesn’t Google do more with Google News? I’ve spoken to a number of Googlers about it off the record, and it sounds like a combination of things: one is that news is a touchy area, since Google is continually accused of stealing content from publishers — which has caused no end of problems in Germany and elsewhere — and so it doesn’t really want to stir the pot too much by making it super useful (although Google News head Richard Gingras is involved in an interesting experiment designed to help improve the trustworthiness of the news, called the Trust Project).

The other thing I have heard is that Google News, like many other aspects of Google, is run by engineers and product managers, not by journalists — and so any feature additions or redesigns have to be sold to engineers first, and they aren’t especially interested in touchy-feely things like highlighting alternative perspectives or embracing user-generated content. Which is too bad, because Kvasnikov has some interesting ideas that are worth exploring.

design-desktop

15 Comments

Anti Fancy

The proposals referred to are nothing more than wasted space, scrunch everything up, social bars, looks like a fad-design more than anything else. I’m surprised there’s no light-gray on white text being proposed (sarcasm). Millions of people want a non-fancy, non-cpu-intensive, traditional, linear, non-annoying, non-space-wasting INTERFACE. Your comment text box IS TOO SMALL do some usability testing.

Markus Schöberl

Maybe Google just doesn’t make enough money with Google News (and doesn’t expect to get a nice ROI if they invest more heavily in the development)?

isaacada1

Good overview Mathew on what the future of Google News could be. Maybe Microsoft can take your suggestions on Google News and apply them to Bing News. Is there any update on Bing News and what the future lies for them?

Roland

I nver visit news.google.com but I use it constantly via RSS to Mozilla Thunderbird. I was surprised to hear of so many complaints about lack of RSS feeds and apps. I hope this doesn’t change.

Nick Post

The Bing or Microsoft News/Finance/Health/Sports aggregation applications that come in windows 8 are wonderful applications and I think something Google should work on. The interface isn’t perfect, but it is like a magazine on the tablet. It is one of the reasons I prefer to use my tablet for reading news.

Side note, look into Google News stand on android and iOS it is a lot like Google news where it lets you pick your sources and topics if interest and is very good looking

sueinphilly

Google is a technology company, not a creator of content & news

they aggregate decently. You can use Newsstand app to get info or their News & weather app or one of MANY third party apps like Flipboard

yes, they could change/improve what they ‘serve’ but in reality I like to use a variety of apps which give me more coverage and ways to interact

I found this article from my news.google.com on my laptop. I could just have easily come across it elsewhere. I for one am glad there isn’t one site/app, etc that does it all.

Reader

An OMG silly article Include social commentary from unreliable sources? Are you auditioning for a job at Rolling Stone? Google News, while not great, is better than anything else at distilling journalists reports into something more useful (kind of like what a fertilizer plant does). Let the engineers run it and don’t let the journalists touch it.

CoryatJohn

Social content on Google news? I read Google News because the content is sourced from actual news organizations with professional reporters and journalists. The last thing I want to read is some silly tweet or FB post from some idiot who can’t actually write, spell or use proper punctuation. Forget social anything. I want real, professional news not sloppy and slipshod writings from amateurs.

ReesesPBC

Terrible ideas! I would quit using google news if you had your way! Google is obviously much much much smarter than you!

Christoph

interesting article and interesting comments … ah it;s Giga OM

catch66

“…Google News, like many other aspects of Google, is run by engineers and product managers, not by journalists..” Very true; I selected ‘Grammar & Spelling’ news option/section, and all I get is ‘Tori Spelling” news– I am a PHD on Tori Spelling’s marriage woes. Now, I also know, all about a guy named Dean Mcdermott, who has impulsive compulsive behavior to cheat on his wife. Like I said, ask me anything about Tori Spelling, but excuse me for any typos — I wanted to improve my Spelling but thanks to the Google’s Human-Bots (H-Bots) the news headlines I get concerns Tori Spelling/Dean Mcdermott, and the ‘not-so-subtle-art’ of wreaking their marriage (and family) in public!

Tim Barrus

Google’s “vision” is an astigmatism. The irony is that Google News isn’t news. News organizations have undergone a revolution in how they operate. In other words, they’ve cut back, cut out, and cut off anything that might facilitate a reporter to leave his desk. Journalism has journalists on a punch clock. They handle most stuff on the phone or email. Journalists couldn’t tell you if it’s raining because they never leave the building.

I’ve been both an editor and a reporter.

Google was a huge part of this paradigm shift.

Can you imagine Google creating a News Department. Really COVERING the news. Google news could be news.

It will never happen because paradigm shifts threaten institutions. They become timid.

Google only sees liability. Design is the least of it.

It’s about how new institutions become old institutions by the way they behave. Google is the only institution that has the money to do it.

Netflix takes more risks. It’s risky creating content.

Google is quite happy to let other people tell the news. Google could change the entire landscape. Again. But institutions rarely do it twice as they become mainstream. Google became more reticent than the institutions they destroyed. It is now a lumbering, tired, old beast. Not too many new ideas will incubate there. Good luck on your redesigned page.

whitewashfanboy

Trove has a function, similar to “coverage”, called “troves” that users can compile on topics. A big yawn to me. I am not interested in turning keeping up with the news into yet another “social site”.
Google News did just add a “Recommended for you” category that learns as the user says yes or no to articles presented, but it seems to equate rejection of an article to an entire topic. I also did not want to have to teach it what I may or may not be interested in especially since none of the first stories matched any of the category filters I had already set up but seemed more closely based on my Google+ activity. I promptly trashcanned that option and went on with my current set up.
The look is certainly sleeker. I could also do without the annoying weather and local news options. At least it does not look like it did in 2009.

indo

Google’s play newstand app is the mobile version of this overhaul you wish for.

And maybe, the desktop version is perfect the way it is and why its remained unchanged. In slightly less real time than twitter it comprehensively displays the most important news from a wide range of customizable categories and it does this with no style whatsoever. This is how news is meant to be consumed. The links that are algorithmically aggregated belong to sites that will give you all the style and bias you are looking for, a few, maybe slightly less so. But whatever site you end up choosing, your decision was made entirely by you with no outside influence whatsoever. THIS, is something that should be commended and not taken for granted because everything doesn’t have to be entertaining at all points in your life, and information is only every properly consumed when raw.

They work hard over at the yahoo homepage making it as pretty and trendy as possible, maybe that’s more your speed…. Or more your style.

jjj

Google killed Reader, Google had lots of new products over the years and they converged into anything. Even Google Now can be a news product.
But in the end Google isn’t paying any attention at all to any of it’s current products. 90% of what they have done in the last 2 years is negative.Google lost it’s Google.
It’s like they don’t have any management at al and they are behaving like everybody else or worse. Even Microsoft puts more effort and has better execution.
Even when they do something good like Chromecast, they lack focus and velocity.
Their search got slightly worse too, not english search is much worse. Hell, on youtube the video ads are not made for youtube.There the user has a few seconds before he/she can skip the ad so you need to either capture the user’s attention or at least say what you need to say in the first seconds for the ad to have any value even if skipped. very different from TV ads but you don’t see Google even noticing teh problem.
They focus so much on the future that they are forgetting the present and they are not good at bringing anything new to market so all their research projects might fail to produce results.
They seriously need to get rid of a few very high level people and find someone that remembers what Google is.Once they get back on track they can go ahead and keep dreaming but without dropping the ball.

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