For all their talk of wanting to get into the social space and add social layers into their search function, Google recently took a step back when they introduced a new feature into Google News, that allows users to block results from blogs. This is controlled through the 'gear' option in the top right of the Google News page, where you have the option to control the level of news you receive from press releases and, for some reason, blogs. Although you can select to have 'more', you also have the option to select none. Anyone that writes a blog, myself included, will likely object to being classified in the same way as a press release. It's understandable why you would want to filter press releases from your Google News results, as the content is promotional and is often just one company's definition of news. It might not really be that newsworthy after all. But why treat blogs in the same way?
To clarify, Google are classifying blogs as sites that run on blogging software, but this still doesn't explain why they would introduce a setting that impacts bloggers in quite a big way and sends a strong message about how Google perceives blogs overall. Blogs have as much to contribute to the news agenda as mainstream publications (though they're not the same at all), but this move sees them potentially removed from the mainstream news agenda. It also seems to go directly against the nature of blogs. Many bloggers are in a much better position than traditional media to react to stories quickly and get a post up, without the need for a longer editorial process. Google's own approach to this is interesting, as the announcement was buried in one line among a longer update about Google News changes :
Google have since expanded on this to say that the decision to include the blog filter was purely a response to user feedback, as people complained that it wasn't obvious which was a blog result, compared to conventional news results. But does Google not have a duty here to educate users? Blogs aren't going anywhere ; if anything they're moving legitimately more and more into the mainstream, with recent blog acquisitions such as TechCrunch and the Huffington Post playing a big part here. If users don't see blogs as real news sources, can Google not educate them and show how they can be part of the news you consume, instead of offering a way to block them?
It also seems odd that Google are so cagey about how they define a blog. This is something they've struggled with for a while, much to the chagrin of bloggers who suffered at the hands of their need to define if something is a blog or not. If they find it so difficult themselves to distinguish between a blog and 'real' news, perhaps that means the distinction isn't needed after all? If a blog is writing about something that appears in a Google News result, then by default it is current and (though this is subsequent to opinion) - informative. This isn't to say of course that the more news the better - we still need quality news. But why are Google suggesting that a blog could be a less worthy news source than any other publication?
AP recognise bloggers as a news source, so why don't Google?
This update from Google seems even more strange when you consider that major, or minor, blogs will often be the first source for a breaking news story. This was recognised by the Associated Press last year, when they officially announced that bloggers should be acknowledged and cited when they were the source of a news story. If the main player in the news industry itself recognises the important role that bloggers play not only in the circulation, but the origin of a news story, Google should surely get in line with this. Again it seems at odds with the way that blogs are moving increasingly into the mainstream production of news. I'm not sure Google can just stand by their assertion that this was down to user feedback. They're making a very clear stance around how they consider blogs as contributing to news, which makes their perceived efforts to get into social seem even more futile, as it seems they only want to be 'social' up to a point.
Blogs contribute to local news
Interestingly, Google are making some excellent update to their News product in other areas, such as the inclusion of local news in their mobile offering. This is a huge benefit to local news providers and helps to establish a sense of local community. The only problem is that local news often comes from bloggers. Even more so, local news that finds its way online often comes from bloggers, as traditional local press often struggles to keep news up to date through their websites. So in this way the update to blogs goes against their update for local news. Now while a lot of people might not even be aware of this option to block both blog and press release content, the fact that Google is offering it sends a big message, and given the huge consumption of news through Google, could potentially hurt bloggers in a big way.
News of the blog update is only making its way slowly around the blogosphere. As it gets covered more, I've no doubt that bloggers will react negatively and Google could see a backlash here. They're clearly trying to improve their News offering and in many ways they're getting it right. It is hard to see any positivity in this update from Google. And yes, I say that as a blogger, so it's perhaps likely that I would see it in this way, but so far the wider reaction to this update is not good and I'd expect it to continue.