by Lauren Fisher
Google are currently testing a new feature on Google News , that adds a new social layer into their news function. By adding your Twitter details, Google News stories will be populated with stories that your friends have tweeted out, in the sidebar. This is in a testing phase and you’ll see if you’re part of it, if you’re presented with a box that asks you to put your Twitter name in and click save. This is one of many forays they’ve made into social and it is one experiment from them that I like!
What Google have done is to get right to the bottom of what Twitter is all about – news. Niall wrote recently on the blog about Twitter being more of a news source than a traffic driver and if this experiment from Google takes off, it will be one of the most elegant and smart uses of Twitter I’ve seen in a while. With this they have provided a much needed product, that combines news sources with social and in a sense, has completely socialised news. And it’s certainly refreshing to see Google make a step into the social realm that you can really see working, and providing real benefit to the user. Until now there hasn’t really been an easy or credible way to just find the news content shared by your Twitter friends, but Google have their existing news asset that makes this work. The tweets on the side will only contain links to stories that are on Google News. And since Google manually check each site as a source before adding it to the Google News database, they can ensure that it’s credible.
This is an interesting step in the socialisation, or democratisation of news. I don’t doubt that when/if this feature is rolled out, users will be drawn more to what stories their friends are linking to, than what Google News decides you should see. This dramatically shifts the power of the news agenda and I don’t think this introduction by Google should be underestimated. It’s almost like moving ‘letters to the editor’ to the front page of a newspaper! Though there are many experiments in the socialisation of news, to date these are mostly projects that explore how social news content can be the main focus or news source. This is different as it puts your friends’ news interests and links, right beside the main news stories. This is your personalised news homepage.
Now, not to be completely OTT in my admiration for this, this does of course have implications for what is considered ‘news’. It’s unlikely that many indpendent blogs will have found their way into Google News. So where your friends are tweeting links to posts on smaller sites, these won’t be shown if they’re not added into the Google News index. This gets intro the tricky area of who gets to decide what it is news, opinion, social comment, blog posts etc.. You could see this as slightly limiting the content that you can discover. But for the main I think it’s safe to view this as a place to get your more mainstream news content, with Twitter remaining the real place to share and discover. This could have implications for the way people use both sites. Right now I’d say there’s an even split between where I go to discover new content – if I hear about a news story I’ll usually go to both Google News, and run a search on Twitter (or go to my stream directly if it’s a major story). This could see people relying more on Google News, in which case Google have achieved what they set out to.
This is clearly a different social news product to say, Digg, because they have the functionality of pre-approved news sources, and only seeing the content of your friends. This helps to filter out a lot of the news, but I don’t see it as a replacement to purely social sites like these, or Twitter in its own right. It’s a new type of product that fits comfortably between social media and news and serves a different, much-needed purpose.
Majority of shared news is through social networks
To put this into context, research just released by CNN finds that 43% of all news links shared are through Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Myspace. Email came in at 30%, followed by SMS at 15% and instant messenger at 12%. The research tracked 2,300 users over two months and also analysed how they engaged with stories. This shows, if proof were ever needed, just how powerful social media is for the spread of news, and what a lot of us are using it for. Of all the content shared, 65% was major breaking news stories. This shows the importance of the product that Google News have developed and how useful it could be to users.
I really hope that this is a social product from Google that sticks. It shows to me that they can get social right, and while there will certainly be some backlash around this, I firmly believe it’s a step in the right direction.