News, Algorithms and the Human Touch

Posted by andreaitis on May 12, 2009

With the rise of self-publishing tools and the decline of traditional newsrooms, the editor’s role  has been rigorously debated.  Today, looking at the latest updates to Google News, there is a loud voice saying the editor is not just a nice-to-have, but a must-have.  Why, you ask?  According to Techcrunch, Google News “still sucks” for  one reason:  no human touch.

Google News

The problem is that Google uses an algorithm to do this clustering. As the vastly superior news aggregator Techmeme, learned quite a while ago, there needs to be some human curation involved. While an algorithm may not be able to see the difference in iPhone stories (or Microsoft stories, or anything else in my example for that matter), a human could.

Further, the biggest problem with Google News when it comes to tech news is that many of the items that appear are laughably old. It’s fine if you want to say it’s for the masses to get a better overview of what’s going on, but at least indicate that these topics aren’t breaking items just because some site decided to write about it again a day or two days or a week after someone else published the story first.

via Google News Gets An Update. Still Sucks.

I  have long been frustrated by the Google News implementation.  But it’s been the only option for so long that we simply lower our expectations and adjust to the suckage.  To me, that’s the core issue with Google products: they make users adjust to them, rather than modifying their products to better meet consumer need.  They never actually finish a product.  They’ll get about 80% there, slap a Beta label on it and call it a day.  Meanwhile, the last 20% is typically the most important (and the hardest).  These are the details that make something fit, that make users nod their heads and smile, that build loyalty and frequency.   Google seems to lose patience and steam, and just move on.   We are left with a product that has great potential, but never really fits.

The algorithm, for example, is a great foundation. To make the Google News experience sing (or at least hum), it needs to have some human filtering, a feed of HSS instead of RSS.  The New York Times is moving in this direction with their brand new launch of  TimesWire.   And, of course, we have our True/Slant Network Activity Feed.

Will these replace Google News?  No.  But the door is open for alternatives and experimentation. Google will have to evolve more aggressively to keep ahead, figuring out along the way how to include the various rivers and streams of news.   With hope, entering a new phase of  human touch tech.


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