Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Is Google killing online exclusives?

A fascinating story from the UK's Independent. The thesis is that by favoring large news sites and those that have the most recent posting of a story, Google News is killing the incentive for online exclusives.An excerpt:

That means no one sees the publication or the journalist(s) who got the story. And in the world of online publications, "clickthrough" is all. Web servers allow editors and publishers to examine in minute detail what sort of stories work and which don't, because they can see exactly how many people read it, and whether they clicked on adverts on the page, and whether they looked at other stories on the site, and whether they continued to the next page in a long story. They also know if people have come there from a news site, or by searching from a search engine such as Google. The "referrer" logs, as they're known, are voluminous - and analysed as minutely as any newspaper circulation returns.

And what they've discovered is that with Google News, it's not enough to be first. Quite the opposite; it's best to be last, because then your site will top the list. If you're acute enough to spot someone else's exclusive and reword it, Google News will reward you by giving you more clickthroughs.

Now, a salubrious effect may be that, as the paper notes, this encourages sites to "rejig" a story to move it back to the top. If this encourages news organizations to advance the story, this is good. Sadly, however, experience shows it is more likely the "rejig" will be just that, and not much more.

Google spokeswoman Debbie Frost denies the company compiles sites just based on time and does consider who broke a story first.

So the Law of Unintended Consequences surfaces again: The same technology that is making jouralism more widely accessible could be stifling the very drive to uncover vital new information. Or, I suppose, one could also argue that it curbs the craziness that produces feeding frenzies such as OJ Simpson, Monica Lewinsky and Scott Peterson.

The real danger, I fear, is that we all end up feeding off each other even much more than we do today.

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