Although Mike Arrington seems less than impressed with it, I think Google’s plan to allow comments on Google News stories — but only from people involved in a news event — is actually a pretty interesting idea. There’s no question that it’s going to be a lot of effort, and that it may in fact fail as a result, but I think the impulse behind it (as described on the Google blog) is a valuable one.
In effect, this is a step towards “crowdsourcing” of the news, but in a very focused way. Instead of allowing anyone to comment on a news event or story, Google’s plan is to only allow comments from those who are a part of the story (although how the company plans to verify that remains to be seen). I think — as Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests does — that this has the potential to expand the journalistic process.
For many newspapers and other news organizations, a story has a limited lifespan, unless it is one of a small number of big headliners that get followed up day after day, or month after month. Whoever responds in time to get their comments included in the story makes it into print, and those that don’t are rarely heard from.
I found it interesting that in the Wall Street Journal story on the new feature, a professor of pediatrics who was asked by Google to comment on a story in which he was quoted said this:
“I’ll do a 15- to 20-minute interview, and two sentences will appear about what I’ve said… So the Google feature is really a chance to flesh out those two sentences and to include some more of what I ordinarily talk about in a 15- to 20-minute interview.”
Google’s proposal has the potential to allow unheard-from participants to make themselves heard, and thus make news stories more complete — as pointed out at Poynter Online and by my mesh friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt — and I think that would be a great idea, at least in principle. In any case, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
As Mike notes at TechCrunch (courtesy of Gabe “Techmeme” Rivera), the terms of service at Google News prevent anyone from crawling the site and aggregating any of its content — but this doesn’t seem very kosher if Google is now effectively creating (or expanding on) the news. And Danny Sullivan has some responses from Google to questions about the new feature.