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Jim falls in love with Google News

November 2002

Is it possible to be in love with a web site? OK, I'm not that far gone. But when you think about it, Google has many of the qualities of the ideal mate.

It's charming and attractive, the speed and responsiveness give the feeling of vitality, it's reliable, it seems to anticipate your needs and meet them perfectly, and it never complains. Plus, it has that wonderful quality that can be present in an ideal mate: it sometime surprises you by revealing new and pleasing facets of itself.

Such as recently, when Google started doing news. Just like everything else Google does, this new feature is extraordinary. Google News indexes some 4,000 news sources and lets you search them. Google even indexes my hometown paper, the Fairfield Ledger.

Like Google's regular search engine, the news search is blazingly fast. Google continuously updates its database throughout the day, such that a search will find articles that were posted to the web just minutes earlier.

Let's say you're interested in Bill Clinton. OK, you're not interested in Bill Clinton. But let's use it as an example anyway. Maybe you want to know what he's been up to lately. Twelve minutes ago a newspaper in Massachusetts, the North Adams Transcript, mentioned him in a news story about the governor's race. And 21 minutes ago, he was mentioned in an article that appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune.

I just wanted you to see how up-to-date this is. But in this case, it wasn't all that practical to sort the results by date, because you get a lot of trivial mentions. The default is to sort by relevance. In this case, you really do find out what he's been doing lately. An article in a Russian newspaper indicated that Clinton had just been invited to Russia. And articles in various British newspapers indicated that he'd recently given a major speech there.

One reason I like this search feature is that I work part of the time as a publicist for my university, and I'm always eager to know if we've been in the news lately. So I did a search on a keyword related to the university, then sorted by date, and then saved that as a favorite. Now to see the latest publicity each day, I don't even have to repeat the steps of the search--I just access my favorite and it does the search in an instant and gives me fresh results.

This is just so cool. It's what I've been wanting. And it's so perfectly satisfying that I've given up the other news sites I had been using in an imperfect attempt to accomplish the same thing. Do you get the analogy? Hint: exclusive, long-term commitment. No more playing the field for me. This is exactly the relationship I have with Google's original search engine. I'm sorry, AltaVista, you're not the one anymore.

So far I've been focusing on the search feature, since that is, in my mind, what really makes this stand out. But the site also does a great job of presenting a newsy "front page" in the same fashion as CNN and other major news sites.

But Google, as always, is different. Other news sites use human editors to decide what the top stories should be. Google uses a computer program. In the same wonderfully useful way it ranks the results when you do a web search, Google uses a secret computer program to rank the news stories according to importance on the front page. My guess is that they determine the top stories in part according to how many news outlets are running that particular story at the moment.

On the front page you'll find the hottest stories at the top of the page and below that the breaking news stories in the categories of World, U.S., Business, Sci/Tech, Sports, Entertainment, and Health.

In addition to the front-page summary, you can click on any one of these categories to go to a section of the site that features that content. Each headline typically also includes the lead sentence and the source of the news.

I think this relationship will last. And just one last quality of Google that makes it ideal: it's funny. In the "About Google News" link, the Q & A has a lighthearted tone, such as this question: "I just did a search and wasn't happy with the results. Who should feel my wrath?" and "How could you leave out Lemur News Digest? How do I get it added?"

Did I mention that Google is also a good cook? Just kidding.

© 2002 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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