Google News fails to Digg-ify itself
Expects business card from Tooth Fairy
Google News is allowing Digg-style reader comments. Sort of.
Today, on the official Google News blog, software engineers Dan Meredith and Andy Golding announced a "new, experimental feature" that gives readers the power to publicly comment on stories turned up by the site's news aggregator - if they're actually involved in the stories.
"We'll 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," they wrote. "Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as 'comments' so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report."
So, although Google won't edit reader comments, it will decide which are worthy of posting. All comments must be sent to the company via email, and then an army of Google minions will do their best to prove that everyone really is who they say they are.
If you send a comment, you must also include explicit instructions for verifying your email address. Google's help site provides some, well, help:
For example, if the Tooth Fairy wanted to comment on a recent story about dental hygiene, she might sign her comment:
"Sincerely, Tooth Fairy.
Verify my identity by losing a tooth and placing it under your pillow. I will leave you a business card along with a small payment for your tooth. Alternately you can call 1-800-TEETH-4-ME and speak to my assistant, The Tooth Mouse, who can confirm my email address and comment."
The trouble is that few Internet users have the power to magically leave business cards under Google's pillows - and even the Tooth Fairy won't turn up until the sun goes down over California. We can't quite see how the company can promptly verify all those identities over the phone - or why it's even going to try.
Google seems to know a thing or two about leveraging the power of the Web. Why doesn't it use browsers to take comments from all readers, including "the actual participants in the story in question"? It takes low-quality videos from all YouTube users. Posting comments from everyone is much easier - and much more interesting. ®
Invitation to scorn
Won't most of these comments consist of interviewees complaining about being misquoted?
I'm gonna have ye, pal
How will this work in the case of crimes, where the accused is out on bail, and has internet access; or controversial stories where there are two groups of people arguing with each other about e.g. a scientific discovery, or a bridge collapse? It seems like a recipe for lawsuits.
I can see a Kenneth Noye-style gang boss, for example, up on trial for tax evasion, using the comments to make veiled threats to potential jurors, or asking his lawyer or a friend to post comments on his behalf. "This story is nonsense, the prosecution haven't got a leg to stand on, the money was only resting in my account, and anyone who thinks otherwise has another think coming if they plan on collecting a pension".
This feature will be used by stalkers and madmen as a vehicle for threats and abuse. Big companies, or the deranged, will flood the stories with comments supporting their position or damning the opposition. People will impersonate officials, and the Google Seal of Veracity will give those impersonations extra weight.
The comments at something like Digg or Slashdot are frequently psychotic, but they are trivial because they are from anonymous nobodies. When actual real human beings with real names, faces, criminal records etc are brought into the equation it all becomes a lot riskier.
So I now get the opportunity to consolidate the adverts I post (and the website(s) I run), with the adverts I buy, with the searches I do, with where I live, with my bank account details, and now, my views on current affairs.
Wow - thank you, Google..
I never used to delete my Google cookie; with the new search-history thing, I will definitely be setting up a script to get me a new cookie daily.