Competition: Correct history with Google's News Comments

Write retrospective PR - win a T-shirt

Summer Fun There's something about Google and news. Nothing brings out the autistic side of Google's corporate personality more than answering criticism about its handling of news material.

Defending the service we see all the company's less attractive characteristics magnified: its utopian faith in the power of its algorithms, its cloth-eared obliviousness to objections, and its infantile and cloying belief that whatever it's doing is doing the world a huge favour.

They're all there. Google News brings out yet another unsavoury characteristic too: the notion that whatever its algorithms may do, its staff are in no way responsible for them.

It's thanks to your reporter that Google News today tags corporate Press Releases as such. When The Register first noticed that Google had introduced the practice of slipping PR matter into the news stream in 2003, the company at first said it didn't, then claimed it was a jolly good thing that we not only wanted, but actually needed.

Since then, when faced with questions of systemic bias, Google has responded in a consistent way. It likes to claim that Huge, Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that's responsible for making these value judgement calls cannot be tampered with, and employees are merely there to polish the machines.

Now, in the biggest development since the launch of the service, Google is to introduce a Comments facility to its Google News aggregator. It's a special kind of Comments section, however: only those "participants" in a story can respond.

This is a particularly American answer to a specifically American "problem". After a promising start at the birth of the Republic, journalists grew weary of being beaten up by tycoons and magnates at every turn, and turned to the trappings of professionalism and to the Holy Grail of "objectivity" in defence. As Bruce Page wrote in The Murdoch Archipelago: "'Objective Journalism' was a specifically American outcome - an almost pedantic collating of alternative viewpoints with estimates of their relative values forbidden." This, Page noted, resulted in "a mechanistic 'objectivity' almost steganographic in character, with sheets of editorial boilerplate obscuring any gleam of judgement".

Promising material for a computer scientist's algorithm, then, you'd think. Instead of "fixing the News", by perhaps producing some of its own, Google is offering to make the processes of reading non-news more mechanically efficient.

It can't fail.

To put this to the test, we've imagined how great moments in history may have looked if the Google News aggregator (with added Comments) was in operation. If you can do better, and you surely can, please submit an example by email (send email here). Extra points will be gained by presenting it with Google-News style HTML formatting, or as a "screengrab".

We're taking a breather

Yesterday's perfidious report on the French forces under my command contained several inaccuracies. It may be true that our incursions into Moscow have been temporarily suspended. But this is because I have permitted the victorious Imperial forces a few days off to go mushroom picking. To suggest this is a full scale "retreat" is nothing more than Prussian propaganda. Be careful - you may be next, mon beer-swilling freres.

Emperor Napoleon I

Posted by: corsica_rules October 18 1812

Gonzalez lost his contact lens

We deeply resent the insinuations in Alfred E Lewis' report entitled 5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats' Office published by the Washington Post yesterday. Several random members of the public who had never met before and who I'd never heard of had indeed gathered at the Watergate Buildings at 2600 Virginia Avenue by kind inviation of the Democratic National Committee to watch a baseball game. One of these, Mr Gonzalez, had later returned to retrieve several items belonging to him that he'd left behind - including a lost contact lens, and a bottle of Havana Club which, for safe keeping, he had temporarily placed in a filing cabinet. The men were let in by a member of the building's cleaning staff who had fallen asleep under a table, and who unfortunately no one has seen since. The group got carried away and took pictures of Mr Gonzalez reuinted with his contact lens. In no way have I ever heard of these gentlemen or the Campaign for the Re-election of the President, whatever that might be.

John Dean, Attorney General, White House

Posted by: Deano Monday June 19 1972

you COMMUNISTS dont even know what a KILOBYTE IS!!!

i can't believe this crap im getting about the 640kb ceiling in the new operating system we invented pcdos thats more than you hobbyists will be able to address for years with ur shitty tools like vi and sed id like to see a *nix editor take up even one tenth that so quit whining anyway if they ever invent a 1mb memory chip we need the other 384kb for ourselves cu on digg

William Henry Gates III

Posted by: billg August 31 1981

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