I’m sorry, but for as good as Google is at organizing the world’s data, Google News absolutely sucks. Now, to be fair, I’m going to focus on Google News from a tech news perspective, because that’s what I follow. Maybe it’s better in other areas, but I doubt it’s much better. I bring this up because a new update to the service today promised “More ways to see the story.” Okay, that’s true, as long as you don’t mind seeing stories that range from partially unrelated to entirely unrelated.
Now, when you click on the “all XXXX news articles” link below each story cluster in Google News, you are taken to a page with a range of content. This includes not only major publication headlines, but blog headlines, picture thumbnails, a timeline of articles on the topic, and even quotes about the topic. The problem, as you can see in my screenshots below, is that Google cannot seem to cluster stories together correctly.
If it sees a story is about say, a religious app being banned on the iPhone, it will cluster that with a story about iPhone ad data — even though the two are not the same story at all. Yet when you click to go to the new area, it indicates that they are the same story, as you can do things like “Search the story.” On any given day there are probably a dozen different stories about the iPhone (at least), and I guess it’d be fine (but silly) if Google wants to cluster them all together. But it doesn’t even do that. There are several clusters containing iPhone items. It seems to be just random which ones go where.
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 below 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.
The timeline view kind of indicates the age of a story, but if you see it’s far from its peak, then don’t make it a top item on Google News. Almost all of the top items right now are far from their peaks.
I could go on. Many of the headlines Google News chooses to use are complete nonsense and give readers absolutely no idea what a story is about. And the excerpts below the titles are often a gibberish mixture of author names, cities the story is based in and random links that don’t appear as links in the excerpts — giving you excepts like, “By Austin Modine Get more from this author Facebook has once again.” Brilliant.