Google News with comments – A Huge Mistake

August 9, 2007

Google News Blog: Perspectives about the news from people in the news
Starting this week, well be displaying reader comments on stories in Google News, but with a bit of a twist…Well be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and well show them next to the articles about the story.

Google will get into a lot of shit for this and rightly so. This restricted participation model coupled with their policy of forbidding other sites from aggregating this content (as pointed out here) is completely against the spirit of the so-called Web 2.0 model. Hell, it is even worse than the limited reader participation encouraged by newspapers. Although letters from readers are filtered by the editorial staff, readers themselves need not have any connection with the article to have an opinion.

I suspect that with this (mis)step, Google was trying to annotate news articles with relevant commentary from authoritative sources. Except that they completely fucked up the algorithm to determine authority – on the new web, authority is determined by links not by editors. You want good commentary on your news articles, then look at TechMeme. Or Wikipedia‘s participation model (e.g., the Talk Page). On a technical level, I am surprised that Google opted for such a centralized and non-scalable model – they always favor algorithmic approaches that scale (e.g. PageRank, Adsense, Adwords).

It is ironic that the same company that built the largest index of the web by crawling open content using a democratic algorithm (PageRank) is now making a complete U-turn. Do Not Be Evil, my ass.