The headlines that appear on our homepage are selected entirely by a mathematical algorithm, based on how and where the stories appear elsewhere on the web. There are no human editors at Google selecting or grouping the headlines and no individual decides which stories get top placement.
Some kinks still need to be worked out -- since when is the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman an authority on Bush's dealings with Saddam Hussein? -- but I really forsee this concept taking off when they fix a few things. Some suggestions:
- Don't link to duplicate wire stories. Right now, many of the story links are the same Associated Press or Reuters stories, repurposed on different sites.
- Create a "hierarchy of trust" that defines which news organizations are more accountable than others -- or let users specify their own hierarchies. This would eliminate the American-Statesman oddity mentioned above.
- In the long term, dynamically generate a full-blown news article for each story that has more than one source, by combining information from several news sources to create one "definitive" piece.
I suspect many in the journalism world will be quick to criticize. Some -- likely those with backgrounds in editing -- will decry the lack of human judgment in the site's story selection. Others will hasten to remove their sites from the search engine's indexing, claiming Google's deep links will cut the number of users who access their sites' home pages directly -- with Google, in effect, removing the middleman (news sites) between users and the individual news stories they want to read.
But deep inside, operators of news Web sites will panic. If you listen closely, you just might start hearing the screams.
UPDATE, 3:30 p.m. EST: It appears the site is only being released to some users, because others have told me they still see the old page (as cached here). Upon further inspection, I'm only able to access the new Google News site in Mozilla on my PC -- but NOT in IE, Netscape 6, or Opera on the very same PC, which still bring up the old site. Similarly, I'm not able to access the new site in IE, Netscape 6, Opera or Mozilla on my Mac. Here's a screenshot of the new site, in case your browser still brings up the old one.
UPDATE, 6:30 p.m. EST: Aaron Swartz of the Google Weblog tells me one of his users reported the new Google News showed up only in IE/Mac. And on my home PC, there's no sign of the new site -- no matter which browser I use. Clearly this is still in the testing phase, so only a few, seemingly random, users will see the new page.