How good is this? While Murdoch and Sly complain about Google, The New York Times and Washington Post have been working with the search engine behemoth on a new form of online journalism. I’m still getting my head around the results, because the format is brimming with clever ideas. Here’s the obligatory cheesy video before I get my teeth into it:
So what’s so special about this? Firstly, it is built around the way people consume content online, as opposed to how they consumed it in print or broadcast. In other words, the unit of entry is the ‘topic’, not the ‘article’, ‘broadcast’ or ‘publication’. If you look at search behaviour, that’s often what people search for (and why Wikipedia is so popular).
But topic-based content is already creeping into news websites, largely for SEO reasons. This has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
One of my favourite features is the ‘conversations’ link in the top right corner. This takes you to a pop-up graphic/map of various comment threads from the website against particular themes. What’s particularly innovative is that this is embeddable – comments become distributable. This gives you more incentive to comment yourself (because you can embed the thread in your own online presence), and it also provides more opportunity for your content to be distributed and bring readers back to your site. And you can customise which elements of the conversation you embed. I’ve tested it at the end of this post. UPDATE: Neha Singh of Google tells me “The comments widget on the New York Times healthcare story was actually developed by the New York Times for their own site. You can see it here:
Back on the main page the navigation on the left offers a useful breakdown of content: in addition to medium-based navigation such as images, video and graphics you can choose to look at the people involved; you can navigate by key quotes; and you can look at resources such as reports, blogs and interactives. My word, yes – it’s linking to the sources! (Although sadly not to any blogs outside the stable)
Again, hugely useful for that significant proportion of people who are searching for a particular piece of information on a topic (and therefore will stick around longer and return in future).
You can also choose to go to opinion or articles, or navigate by event.
You can reorder the content in reverse-chronological order, or choose to show ‘Most Important Only’.
There is an RSS feed and email updates on the topic.
And particularly clever is that it remembers what you’ve seen so that when you return new additions are highlighted and old content removed.
At this early stage the format is still rough around the edges: it’s not the most intuitive piece of interface design, bombarding you with information while some useful elements (such as conversation) are not particularly visible. It seems odd that there is only one RSS feed and email alert for the whole topic – it would be useful to have more specific feeds, for instance on new video only. And it’s actually less inviting in making you want to contribute comments or other material, partly because you’re too busy reeling from the sheer volume of information and possibilities.
Finally, the biggest – and killer – question for me is how much of the construction of the page is done automatically, and how much requires someone to input and connect data.
And of course, it doesn’t address the advertising problem (but there’s plenty of potential here for stickiness and engagement).
The New York Times reports that
“Josh Cohen, business product manager for Google News, said that if it worked well, Google would make the software available free to publishers to embed in their sites, much as those publishers can now use Google Maps and YouTube functions on their sites.”
Google’s blog, meanwhile, says the platform will be improved in the coming months:
“Over the coming months, we’ll refine Living Stories based on your feedback. We’re also looking to develop openly available tools that could aid news organizations in the creation of these pages or at least in some of the features. If you’re a news reader, we’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’re a news organization, we want to hear your comments on the Living Storyformat. If you decide to implement this on your site, we would love to hear about that too. At the very least, we hope this collaboration will kick off debate and encourage innovation in how people interact with news online.”
One to keep an eye on. Oh, and here’s that conversation embedded, just to see how it works: