One of Google's most popular, older and controversial services, Google News, is the article aggregation and search site that media companies love to hate because it has become a major source of Web traffic and frustrations for many of them.
Some, like Agence France Presse and Copiepresse, have sued for copyright infringement over Google News' modus operandi of indexing media content without permission. Meanwhile, every day, many editors cringe at the way Google News ranks articles.
All along, Google has defended News saying that it is protected by the fair use principle -- because it only reproduces headlines, text snippets and thumbnail images -- and that it provides great benefit to media Web sites by sending them readers. IDG News Service recently had a chance to chat about these and other issues, such as video news and social news sites, with Nathan Stoll, a Google product manager involved with Google News. This is an edited version of the interview:
Although many Web publishers like having Google News drive traffic to their ad-supported sites, it's probably no coincidence that you had to deal one-on-one to accommodate the concerns of Associated Press and Agence France Presse. As wire services, their revenue mostly comes from subscription fees, not Web advertising. Have you rethought how you deal with wire services in Google News?
We've always had a consistent approach to content producers and publishers: to give control to the original publisher of a piece of work. Google News should reward original journalism, whether it's from the AP or a local newspaper. That's the ultimate goal. When we think about who's the publisher we want to be talking with when they have issues or concerns, if it's the AP's articles, whether they are syndicated out there or not, AP is the one we need to work with.
Before you and AFP settled the lawsuit, it seemed technically difficult for you to keep AFP's content out of Google News. Although you significantly cut down, you never totally eliminated AFP content, apparently because, as wire service material, it appears on many Web sites.
It's a good observation. It's certainly more challenging than when a typical webmaster can put a robots.txt file telling us not to crawl their site. However, even with a newspaper that doesn't want us crawling their site, it could sell its articles to another site. Then we would need to come up with a way of detecting that. Or the newspaper could tell the site to meta-tag the article so that we wouldn't crawl it. It's very easy to do.
With the AFP lawsuit, we acted as if that had been an opt-out request and we tried to make sure, to the best of our ability, that their content wasn't in Google News.
Any plans to add a video component to Google News?
We don't want to preannounce any features but our Google News philosophy is to give users access to all the perspectives on a news story. To the extent that a lot of those are in video and becoming available online, we'd certainly love to make those perspectives available and easily discoverable.
With the YouTube team, working hard, it's certainly an area we'd like to make progress in.
It's true that lots of publishers have asked us about our plans, whether or not we're planning [to include video] because they'd like to get added traffic to their video content. There's certainly a need out there.
What are you doing on the social news front, along the lines of sites like Digg and Slashdot?
Obviously Google has a number of products and services that touch on those types of areas. In News today we offer a number of customization and personalization features. If I was to give you themes about areas that we're working on, that would be one area in which we're very interested.
What can people do in terms of tagging and categorization in Google News?
Not much. Today, the tools we offer allow them to customize the content they get on their pages but we're not actually using many explicit feedback loops from users directly. We offer features built on top of the Web History product which allow users to give us permission to keep track of the articles they've read and we can use that information to offer them some better news articles and better rankings.