Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not a Google Advertisement

I have my home page set to Google News because a) I'm a news junkie and b) Google News has more news feeds than I can find anywhere else (more than 4,500 in English according to their own press). I like the fact that all stories are grouped with anywhere from three to six links to additional stories on the same subject from different sources. And in addition to that there's a link by each story that will take you to all stories on that subject.

Admittedly the story that catches your eye is always the one listed at the top complete with tag lines and by lines. I tend to read these the most because, as I said, they catch my eye the most. Nonetheless I do read the alternate stories as well. I read from sources with nominally similar political leanings to mine. I read from some who have no stated (or implied) point of view. I read those who agree with my take on this world, and from those whose view of the world makes me sick. In short, I attempt to see a story from several points of view. This is part of the informative process and I like it.

I was browsing Google News last night and I noticed a header reading "Recommended for Yar." Oddly one of the three stories listed under this header was something about Britney Spears. I'll admit to the occasional gander her way but I make no habit of reading celebrity news. Nonetheless my curiosity over "recommended" stories was piqued and I clicked on the adjacent link reading "Learn more." And I did.

Google is offering a clever new service whereby they use their vast database with knowledge of the Internet and knowledge of you to match up your news interests with what's out there. Google's computers evaluate your choice of stories and your choice of venues and determines which stories, delivered by which sources, you will most want to see, and presents them to you on a small platter. They tell you (as you are learning more) that this can be so much better than having a news smorgasbord spread out in front of you. It will save your time and make sure you actually find the stories (written in your favorite slant) you really care about.

This could save me so much time and indecision. It could mean I won't waste my time reading meaningless blather (assuming they fix that Britney Spears thing). It could free me to be a lean, mean, news-reading machine.

Rupert Murdoch must be seething for not thinking of this first. I'm sure Google geeks just think this technology is cool; tailoring the Internet to the user is their first love. I'm sure Google marketing loves it, seeing the possibilities of steering readers to sites with the most Google advertisements. But any conspiratorial aspirations probably end there. The thing that makes me pause (actually I screech to a tire-burning stop), is the potential for abuse. I mentioned Rupert Murdoch at the top of this paragraph because this sounds like his wet dream. Intentionally or unintentionally people who subscribe to this wonderful new service will be fed filtered news, eliminating the serendipitous nature of garnering news on the web.

So Google is offering a tailored news service that totally disregards any alternate views or stories that don't fit in a narrow band of interest. I'm not saying Google is doing this for any nefarious reasons. But others are going to see the benefits. Look how well Faux News has used similar methods to create millions of mind-numb robotic mimics (a recent survey found that Fox News watchers are some of the least informed Americans [people who watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the most informed {beating out even NPR}]).

I have decided not to opt for Google's new service. I considered creating an alter-persona to test it out and get a real comparison. But I doubt I will; it would be a pain in the butt as I would have to regularly read news under both personas. I love reading news, but I do have a life.

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