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Google Gives Life to the Online News Story

Google Open Sources "Living Stories" Labs Experiment

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Update: Google has now open sourced Living Stories, giving all developers the code to build their own living stories pages. This means anyone can participate now.

"Since we launched this proof-of-concept test on Google Labs in December, 75% of people who sent us feedback said they preferred the Living Stories format to the traditional online news article," Google says. "Users also spent a significant amount of time exploring stories. This tells us there’s a strong appetite for great journalism displayed in a compelling way."

Code and documentation can be found here.

Original Article: Google has been working with the New York Times and the Washington Post on a Google Labs experiment, which the company has unveiled today. It’s called Living Stories, and aims to provide a different online news experience by creating a singular page where readers can follow one story line in the news as new developments occur.

"A typical newspaper article leads with the most important and interesting news, and follows with additional information of decreasing importance," says Google. "Information from prior coverage is often repeated with each new online article, and the same article is presented to everyone regardless of whether they already read it. Living Stories try a different approach that plays to certain unique advantages of online publishing. They unify coverage on a single, dynamic page with a consistent URL. They organize information by developments in the story. They call your attention to changes in the story since you last viewed it so you can easily find the new material. Through a succinct summary of the whole story and regular updates, they offer a different online approach to balancing the overview with depth and context."

Components of a "Living Story" include:

- A summary at the top of each story. Summaries are rewritten to reflect updates. Changes will be highlighted.

- A running catalog of info related to the story. The latest info is always at the top.

- Filters on the left-hand side of the page to identify the important moments in an ongoing story, the people involved, source material, images, audio, and quotations.

- A timeline, which provides a snapshot of the story’s most important developments.

The pages are personalized to readers’ reading patterns, so when they leave a story and come back, the newest updates are presented at the top. Previously read updates are collapsed. Readers can subscribe to a page via email alerts or RSS feeds to stay updated.

Google says it hopes to eventually make Living Stories available as a tool for publishers, so they can implement a similar functionality into their own content. One reason this format may not be attractive to some publishers is that by creating a singular page for a storyline, as opposed to separate article pages, you’re essentially creating less places to put ads, which is how most content publishers make money on the web. That said, the more content that appears on a single page, the more room there is for ads on that particular page.

"Are Living Stories the ‘future of news?’" asks Google. "Maybe. Are all these concepts correct? Probably not. Can this collaboration kick off the debate and encourage innovation in how people interact with news online? We certainly hope so."

Being a Google Labs experiment, there is plenty of room for improvement with Living Stories. Google is heavily encouraging feedback from publishers and news readers alike. It will be interesting to see how this project develops in time, and whether more publishers embrace the concept down the road.

Living Stories are currently only available in English, and are not designed to necessarily support mobile devices yet.
 

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Google Gives Life to the Online News Story
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