Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Google has made three announcements in the past three working days that could have an impact on publishers

On Friday Google announced it is expanding personalized search results based on an individual's search history. While the change is somewhat of a commonsense evolution of the search engine, some fear the consequences could lead to less diversity in search results.

The first impact would be that SEO would harder to achieve. The second impact might be that the results are skewed towards larger companies. In a PC World post by Tony Bradley, Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer at Greenlight, said that "small businesses that aren't as well known as the bigger brands won't be clicked on as much and won't then get the opportunity to appear in results in future searches." I'm not sure this isn't already happening anyway.

On Monday, Google said that they will begin adding live updates to its search results from posts originating from sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

The obvious benefit would be that search results will be more up-to-date.

But this one sounds too much like a marketing deal, though. Why these three sites? (Twitter had previously completed the same deal with Microsoft's Bing search engine.) Will other sites have to secure deals in order to make sure their updates are included? Did money change hands?

According to the NY Times "Facebook has said publicly it is not earning money from the deal, and is giving Google updates only from the public profile pages on the service, which can already be seen by anyone on the Web." Funny, I assumed Facebook would be paying Google, so who knows what the real arrangement is.

I know that any publisher would be willing to be the source for updates. For instance, say you are the publisher of Lawn & Landscape, wouldn't it benefit you to be the one live source of updates concerning a range of issues and companies your industry is involved with?

Finally, Google announced a new project developed with The New York Times and The Washington Post called "living stories". living stories gathers together articles on a single topic in chronological order for easy reading and to assist in understanding the issue or topic in depth. Any site could do this themselves, assuming their editors are properly labeling their stories, and assuming the story involved was complex enough to evolve over time.

Like much of what Google does my concern would be its impact on small to medium sized publishers. In the "lab" environment that living stories is in now the only two sources of news are The Times and The Post. But in the future, assuming living stories survives, a question of who gets in will arise. Google doesn't help here by stating on its web site

We hope that news publishers find the ideas embodied in Living Stories compelling, and consider adopting them on their own Web sites. For this reason, we plan to work on open-source tools for creating Living Stories that any news organization can use. For the duration of this initial experiment however, Living Stories will only contain news content provided by the Times and the Post.
Sounds like if you are not The Times or The Post you're on your own.