Google News Strikes Blow Against Cynicism, Will Drive Pageviews to Quality Content

In a Saturday morning blog post the Google News team just announced a new HTML tag they will be scanning for in the headers of news articles: standout. Publishers can call out their own content when they publish particularly good stuff or they can highlight someone else’s content that inspired their own. You can call your own stuff “standout” up to 7 times in a week – any more and the tags will be ignored. But you can highlight other peoples’ content as much as you want. Google seems to imply in its announcement, though it doesn’t say it explicitly, that its algorithm will reward publishers who engage in the best practice of generously applauding great content on other sites with recognition.

People say that online news has grown cynical and pandering because that’s the only way to thrive under the rule of the angry god of pageviews. But what if the big traffic drivers put a premium on generosity, if not machine-recognized authenticity? That kind of strategy could be carried to quite an extreme – the Google algorithms could give extra rank to content with a better Flesch–Kincaid readability test score, or lower rank to any site that ever mentioned anyone’s name who’d appeared in headlines along with the phrase “sex tape.” That’s probably a little too paternalistic – but the Standout tag seems like a simple and smart way to reward content that publishers appreciate.

It’s interesting that simply linking elsewhere isn’t enough anymore. It will also be very interesting to see what kinds of content publishers think is their best, how often they do highlight the content of others with an outbound Standout tag, etc. That should all be available for independent analysis, too, as it’s not just Google that can see these HTML tags. What kind of relationship do you expect various sites to have with Standout? GigaOm vs BusinessInsider? Mashable vs. TechCrunch? How will ReadWriteWeb use them? You’ll just have to wait and see!

I think this is a great idea and I hope it helps flesh out a linked web of content that prioritizes serving the reader over short-term self-referential pageviews at all costs.

There’s a lot more to be said about this but I’ll defer to Ethan Klapper’s write-up at Mediabistro for more. Heck, I’d tell the bots it’s a standout article if my personal site here was indexed by Google News. As a one-person, low-key operation it won’t be – so I’ll have to just link the old fashioned way.

New Google Plus People Search is Not Very Good

Google Plus released a search function this week, months after the search giant’s social network went live. The People search part at least is remarkably un-useful. I think there are huge opportunities in discovery of people but apparently Google thinks not so much, so far at least.

People search searches the About pages of peoples’ Google Plus profiles as a full-text search. There doesn’t appear to be any relevance ranking in the People Search results pages, either. So you get a lot of very random results.

Search for anthropologists and it does identify people who use the word anthropology in their About page, but they seem pretty random. Some of them are anthropologists, though. Search for people with the keyword baseball and the #1 result is an online marketer named Kevin Palmer who filled out the bragging rights section of his profile with the words “I got hit in the same spot on my leg in a high school baseball game.” I guess he means twice? I don’t know. Odd choice for the #1 search result from the #1 search company in the world. Maybe it will get better with time. I see that he’s following me on Plus though so maybe the results are different for everyone. Odd.

I hope it becomes awesome someday. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to find baseball playing anthropologists and pop a handful of them into a Circle?

Disclosure: I’m on the Google Plus suggested users list and thus have an economic interest in not criticizing the service.

Google Plus Just Gave Me Thousands of Dollars

Google’s new social network Plus released a suggested users list today and I’m on it. Here is Alex Howard’s post detailing all the people listed. We will all now get tens of thousands if not millions of new subscribers to our updates on the network. We will have all the more incentive to keep posting to Plus and to say nice things about it. Those of us who make money doing these sorts of things, as I do when people click my links and view the ads on ReadWriteWeb or consider my consulting services through this site, will probably see a windfall of thousands of dollars. At least. For some new media brands, if Google Plus gets as big as Twitter, it could mean millions of dollars.

Is this a case of the rich getting richer, of the new media ecosystem being concentrated into the arms of a small number of voices, contrary to the interests of consumers? If this was the only way to discover new people to follow, that would be bad. It isn’t and it won’t be though. Like all things, this arrangement is part meritocracy, part democracy, part privilege and some other parts other stuff. It’s complex and there’s more to discuss about it than I can here while I’m riding down the highway on an Amtrak bus and blogging on my phone.

Is this ethically wrong? I don’t think so, but it is sticky that’s for sure. Networks of self-published content are the hot currency of the era and the ecosystem around those networks includes some of us interesting enough, culturally safe enough and commercially viable enough that we make our living publishing on the web, through RSS, to subscribers on Twitter, Facebook and Plus. It’s a beautiful thing, but the challenge will be to not get so cozy with the networks that we both cover and that deliver us this flow that we no longer serve our audiences (or whatever you people reading should be called) with an eye for critique of the network providers themselves.

I’m not on Twitter’s suggested user list but my employer is. I’ll rip into that company at a moment’s notice, publish its secrets when I discover them and just generally maintain a respectful antagonism with them despite their role in the supply chain that turns my thought into bits into (delicious Oregon microbrewed) beer in my belly.

Hopefully Plus didn’t just buy a bunch of unconditionally supportive new friends in the media. Clearly they don’t hold a grudge about my scoop of the details about how the new network would work at SXSW, despite the red-faced shouting at me at the time. I’ve also been very critical of Plus regarding the Real Names policy.

There’s room in my head though to be glad to have been picked for the pickup basketball team while also feeling like the captain of the team sometimes acts like a frat-boy a-hole. It’s a complicated situation and no one is pure and good in it. It’s the future: messy like the present and the past but hopefully a little more just and democratically empowering.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll be disclosing that I’m on the Plus suggested user list in every article I post about the network in the future. Because these days, a free pile of social network connections equal free discourse at scale, free access to answers to many of my questions and other resources that eventually translate to free money and power. And I intend to keep it free because I’m going to work hard to not pay the price of my integrity.