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September 30, 2002

Google News Displeases the Beeb

Posted by Mike on September 30, 2002 6:41 PM

LaughingMeme notes that the BBC seems put off by Google's news service.

LaughingMeme is irritated over the BBC's irritation and chooses to attack the slender attribution of a few of the sources, which is fine, but blows that complaint by exaggerating the issue, and then launches into the standard paranoid rant about "mainstream media" trying to suppress the innurnet by claiming that Google is somehow freeing us from the shackles of the tyrannical big media outfits by aggregating all their content and letting people read it. If that sentence is convoluted, it's because the reasoning behind it is, as well. It's the same thing we've been getting from the slashbots for years: fawning praise of sites that regurgitate mainstream press reports (depend on them, in fact), yet claim moral superiority because they approve of the sort of person who bothers to comment in the forums or, in this case, the technology that drives the site.

I like Google's news page and visit it several times a day because it's more readable and comprehensive than any other front page I've seen. On the other hand, even people friendly to it have already begun noting that it has some interesting skews (like a seeming preference for some wire services, no doubt based on their widespread propagation), and it doesn't seem like a crazy stretch to imply that we'll need a few more months plus, perhaps, a major news event or two, to see how the algorithm proves itself.

In the meantime, the BBC folks have a point, even if its couched in a flawed story: we've seen human-driven editorial decisions at their best, and they can be pretty damn good... we've only seen one machine-driven editorial decision mechanism, and it's less than a year old. No matter how much we like the idea of an impartial algorithm computing the value of news stories rather than someone with, perhaps, an ideological axe to grind, doing it for us, Google has yet to establish that the stories it places highest are the best choices. Until more time has passed, being anything less than skeptical is inexcusable complacency.