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March 5, 2004


Problems with Google News

Google News is a great service for tracking down a lot of current articles on a given topic, but the much-vaunted robotic editor that assembles the headlines on the main page needs some work. For one thing, by its nature, it's never the timeliest of news sites: it won't "promote" something to the main news page until other sites have already posted it. This leads to problems on big news days: the day the space shuttle blew up, I think it took the Google News bot four hours or so to feature the story on their main page.

Additionally, others have previously noted that because Google includes non-objective news sites in its pool, some pretty biased stuff can show up on the main page, as long as the topic of the biased article is a hot news item that day.

As a result of the lack of human oversight, and the points mentioned above, tonight Google featured what may be the strangest headline yet on Google News:

This "news story" is essentially an advertisement that Google's newsbot is unaware is an advertisement. So, there are really 238 news stories related to this FREE devotional companion? Wow, Googlebot, you really scooped the competition on this one!

As you can see from the full size screen capture, the headline is right in there with all the other news stories, as if it were legitimate. If you click on the link from Google's site, you get a page that tells you just how FREE that devotional companion really is:

"The Passion: Reflections on the Suffering and Death of Jesus Christ" will be sent as a free gift to every WND reader who subscribes to WND's acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine, who renews their subscription or gives a gift subscription before the offer expires tonight at 10 p.m. Pacific.
The root of the problem stems from Google including sites like WorldNetDaily, which is unabashedly biased, in their pool of "news" sites. The problem is compounded because WND mingles ads in their own headlines, and Google's bot isn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference (as this example shows.)

There was a flap a while ago because unedited corporate press releases were showing up on Google News, too, as if they were actual news articles, so maybe it's time for Google to tweak their bot to be a little more discerning, at least when it comes to what appears on the site's main page, maybe by limiting the number of news sources that can be selected for a front page story (and maybe by splicing some spam-blocking code in there, too).

But then again, with the page being constantly in flux, maybe it doesn't matter: by the time I finished writing this post, the bot had replaced the FREE devotional companion "story" with one titled, "Campus reaction to Passion isn't so passionate" from the Yale Herald.

Update: Well, the news bot did okay today: Martha Stewart was found guilty on all charges 27 minutes ago, and it's already "above the fold" on Google.

categories: Media, Technology
posted by adm at 2:10 AM | #