News Search Engines Talk

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I just left the “Meet The News Search Engines” session at SES Chicago. The speakers were Chris Tolles of Topix.net and Nathan Stoll of Google. Later, we will be hearing more about news search from WebProNews Editor Mike McDonald who interviewed Chris following after the session. There are lots of interesting plans for news search coming from Topix.

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The session was geared towards news and press release publishers, which isn’t exactly the focus of SES, so it wasn’t heavily attended. However, those who were there seemed extremely interested … as was I.

Nathan Stoll, Product Manager at Google whose primary responsibility is Google News, started with a little bit of history. He noted that Dr. Krishna Bharat invented Google News after reading news stories following the 9/11 tragedy and wishing there was a way to see broader coverage from a variety of sources. Nathan stated that Google News was founded really to “help the world” via its broad range of sources and points of view. Nathan noted, “There are no plans to monetize Google News… but we don’t rule it out.”

Many do not realize that Google News is generated entirely by computer algorithms. Nathan pointed out that Google crawler is sensitive to the frequency in which publisher posts new content. Robust publishers will be spidered as often as evey 5 minutes, whereas infrequent publishers may be crawled only a couple times a day. He also mentioned that url design is very important in the news space. “You should not use url’s more than once, otherwise crawlers will think it is the same story.”

One of the things that makes Google News unique is their clustering process. Google News looks at the words in news articles and groups them together in order to build story clusters. This enables Google to categorize their front page by story subject areas. I find this facinating in that there are very few errors in this process with Google News.

How does Google rank news stories for appearance on the front page? Nathan states “a small event has a small impact on publishing activity, but a big event causes rapid, independent publishing activity world wide.” They use this concept to determine what hits the front page of Google News. “We want recency and diversity in the ranking of articles on the Google News front page.

What determines the ranking in news search results? Nathan cited these items:

– importance of the story
– recency of the story
– relevance to the query

Nathan concluded by saying, “Users do understand brand in the news search space. They understand things like speed, originality and relevance.” He later stated something that I know is true … “Journalist actually love using Google News”.

Chris Tolles, VP of Sales and Marketing at Topix.net spoke next. Topix is a news search engine with over 27,000 news sources … many more than Google. This is probably because they include many more blogs than Google. Chris commented, “We are finding 50 blogs a day that are good enough to be included as a news source in Topix.net. And if you want to get tech news you had better be looking at blogs because they are more up to date.” Nathan Stoll countered in Q&A that Google is “working on ways to incorporate blog posts from the Google blog search into Google News”. Chris added, “It turns out that in fact the blogs are “the news” in certain niche categories. We think that you do have to integrate blogs with news sources.”

Chris noted that news is a tremendous driver of internet traffic. He said that at Yahoo more pageviews are driven by news than search … email is number one. According to BusinessWeek 41% of Google users are “looking for news”.

Chris believes that the business of journalism is changing for these reasons….

– the internet your heard about in 1996 is here
– a cheap publishing system for everyone
– advertising networks turn traffic to revenue
– RSS provides massive distribution framework
– 200 million people in audience

Search is like the yellow pages according to Chris … people looking for a specific piece of information. News is more about discovery. Recency is also very important.

Chris concluded with … What is next?
– sort through a million new voices
– creating a system of participation
– the newsroom must support itself

“There are going to be changes for everyone: media industry, readers, advertisers.”

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Rich Ord is the CEO of iEntry, Inc. which publishes over 200 websites and email newsletters.

Rich also publishes his blog WebProBlog which focuses on internet business and marketing trends.

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