Last week, Google quietly introduced a facility on their US news service that allows anyone quoted in an article to respond with their personal comments – even though Google doesn’t own the copyright to the original stories.
This move will undoubtedly strain the already tense relationship between Google News and the media industry.
For a start, Google is buying into the growing trend of subjecting mainstream media to a high level of scrutiny with the help of interactive technologies. For some journalists and editors, the idea of listening to what their readers think is wholly unpalatable. This style of self-righteous journalism simply cannot survive.
Another complaint is that Google is creating content on the back of material published by others. Former editor of New Media Age magazine, Mike Butcher, told The Guardian:
“This is an attempt by Google to hijack not only media but the entire online conversation. Since it does not own the rights to republish the news content, its next best option is to own the content produced by people commenting.”
Google says it is merely using its technology to enhance the news experience for readers, and claims that it’s not attempting to be a content provider. Software engineers Dan Meredith and Andy Golding explain that:
“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.”
I’m not so sure. Google may not be carving out a full editorial role for itself, but its algorithms are a powerful factor in determining what news we read. And with its comment facility Google is definitely edging into the realms of content production.
As such, it will be increasingly difficult for Google to escape the regulatory mechanisms that keep media organisations in check. By the same token, ‘traditional’ media outlets can no longer view Google as a marketing machine. It seems to me that this marriage of convenience is on shaky ground.