For a brief moment, Google News' top story was "Romney Drops Out of Race, Endorses Santorum." This is decidedly untrue — but hey, it was published by Forbes, so it must be worth something, right? Nowhere did it say this was a prank: although it should be obvious to most, we live in a country where actual people believe Onion headlines. And it's not as though this is that much more ridiculous than the Republican primary has been thus far.
Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families apparently didn't get the memo that Google is your new god. The CCF is a California organization dedicated to, among other things, making sure only biblically-appropriate marriages involving one weewee and one hooha are allowed in the state by endorsing Proposition 8, which "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry." Thomasson told OneNewsNow, the propaganda arm of the American Family Association, that since Google has come out against the same-sex marriage ban, he won't be using the search engine. And Thomasson had some harsh words for Larry Page and Sergey Brin.The Google cofounders, according to Thomasson, "replaced all notions of God's truth by worshiping money as god." Also, the company makes fun of Easter and prefers "pagan-type holidays." Of course, no one seems to have told the CCF's Webmaster — the screenshot from CCF's page on current issues surrounding marriage in California asks users to search Google News for the latest updates on heathen abominations.
Newspaper publisher Tribune is now saying that timing was what put a link to a four-year old United Airlines bankruptcy story on the website of one of its papers. From there, it was indexed by Google and made its way onto the Bloomberg business wire, triggering a partially automated market selloff which crashed United's stock price in only a few minutes. During a slow news period, a single visitor dropped by the Web site of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and clicked once on a link to the old story. This activity was enough to triggger its inclusion on the website's list of the day's most popular stories. The Googlebot, Google's Web indexer, dropped by minutes later and added the story to Google News. Tribune is saying that they've asked the Googlebot to stop crawling the company's online publications, which Google denies — maybe Google should check its new newspaper archives.Because last year, Tribune CEO Sam Zell asked Google to quit indexing and displaying headlines or pay up. How should Google have responded? By telling the IT guys at the Sun-Sentinel to edit the robots.txt file on the server that would presumably stop the Googlebot in its tracks. (Photo by AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Shares of United plummeted 75 percent on the Nasdaq exchange today before trading was manually halted. All of this because of a chain of events that started when a link to an old story from 2002 on the air carrier's bankruptcy appeared as a link on the website of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, was picked up by Google News, got written up by a newsletter produced by Income Securities Advisor, which in turn was distributed on the Bloomberg wire. Google is blaming the newspaper, while the newspaper is blaming Google. Bloomberg has washed its hands of the affair, blaming the content provider. And algorithm worshippers can all point to the puny human who didn't read the dateline. But that wasn't the real bug in the meatware.It really boiled down to a bunch of people believing something they read on the Internet. In other words, Google and Bloomberg are seen as trusted sources. Google sells itself as more trustworthy because there are no editorial decisions made by humans on the news site — when of course, like Bloomberg's syndication practices, it's just that much cheaper to maintain. What neither of them have solved is the entire problem with the mechanization of information distribution: Garbage in, garbage out.
At a conference in San Francisco meant for startups, Google search-and-cupcake czar Marissa Mayer is currently live-demoing Google's latest launch, a news archive of scanned newspaper stories that goes back decades. The archive's scope of how many newspapers, over how many decades, isn't clear from Mayer's presentation or Google's blog post. Mayer says the project uses Google's book-scanning tech, adapted for newsprint archives.
Did you know that Russian troops are thrusting into the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia? That's what readers will learn from a Google Maps graphic accompanying a news story about Russian incursions into Georgia — the nation-state in the Caucasus, not the Caucasian-pride-ridden state in the southern United States. Google's mixup will not help Yahoo Answers user Jessica B., who presciently asked, "i herd on the news that rusia has invaded but i dont see them no where wats going on." A screenshot of Google's erroneous invasion map:
Marissa Mayer, the Google executive who runs all the parts of the search engine, just put her legal team in a pickle. She told conference-goers yesterday at Fortune's Brainstorm conference that Google News, despite being advertising-free, makes $100 million in revenues a year. Fortune writer Jon Fortt explained Mayer's thinking:
TheProgramme.tv posts a screenshot of a Google News homepage that features one and only one story — an editorial from Pakistan's The Nation reposted to Worldmeet.us titled U.S. Disrespect for Pakistan Sovereignty Must End .... This smells like linkbait — a screenshot is easy to fake. But then again, an attempt by Pakistan Telecom to block Google's YouTube did "accidentally" shutter the popular site worldwide for a few hours, so who knows.
The human middle manager behind Google News, which happily crawls gossipmongers TMZ.com and Defamer Australia, still refuses to include Drudge Report, Boing Boing, or for that matter us in the index. (I'm pretty sure I have his name, but not sure enough to run it.) The issue isn't original content. "Definitely some of the blogs they include scrape our stuff, repost our stuff," Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin emailed me. And Google News does include Slashdot, which is almost entirely reposts from other sites. To be clear: Leave us out. It's good for our brand. But for God's sake if you're going to shove WebProNews at everyone, make up for it with some Daring Fireball.
According to a New York Times report, Google has been seeking out and posting comments from people mentioned in stories found on Google News since spring. The company blogged an announcement in August. I know: This changes everything. Except there are currently only 140 comments posted among the 4.3 million stories in Google News — a participation rate lower than one-third of one percent. As the Times reports, even with Googlers emailing the subjects of news stories, people just aren't coming out in force to get their comments in. Are you an aspiring pundit? Here's an easy one for you: Predict that this will explode in 2008. Next year, do the same for 2009.
The Associated Press has sued Moreover Technologies, an early news aggregator. Moreover, owned by VeriSign, provides news coverage from a wide variety of sources to subscribers that it finds on websites, including AP wire stories. AP's complaint is that Moreover is "scraping," or copying, the full text of wire stories and sending them to subscribers without paying for them. AP's lawyers argue that this is far outside the realm of fair use. After Moreover ignored a cease-and-desist letter, AP decided to sue. An interesting case, to be sure, but one that's widely misunderstood by quick-on-the-draw bloggers.