An Unexpected Look at an All-New Google News

It's really different. Is it about to replace Google News as we know it?

By  |  Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 7:37 am

Google has long liked to test new features by randomly surprising a subset of its visitors with them to gauge their response. Seems like I’m always reading blog posts from folks who have stumbled upon something unexpected and interesting in one Google service or another, but that I’m never one of the lucky ones. Until this morning, that is.

As I often do, I began my day by checking Google News to see what was new in the world. What was new turned out to be Google News itself–I got a significantly revamped version. One with not one or two new features, but a whole bunch of ’em. If I’d been drinking coffee, I might have done a spit take.

This revamp isn’t brand new–the Google Operating System blog covered it back in July–but I think it’s possible, at least, that it’s being prepped to become the standard version, since I’ve gotten it twice this morning, and another newshound friend encountered it today, too. (The official Google News Blog is mum about any impending changes, although it told readers a couple of months ago that they might see experimental features.)

At first glance, it doesn’t look that different:

But as I scrolled through the page, i found lots of new elements, beginning with a “Developing stories” block at the top of the page. It features…well, developing stories. I’m not sure what Google’s definition of that it, but they did seem to be fresh. (The standard Google News page just has the top stories from all its categories in this space.)

The “More” links in this section are nicely done–click one, and you get links to more stories on the topic in question, which pop up without the whole page refreshing…

Also new: A “Featured photo.” I don’t know how Google figures out which photos are worth featuring, or whether it’s based on the story, the photo, or a combination thereof. In this case, at least, it is indeed an interesting one…

You also get “Popular stories,” which are presumably ones that lots of folks are reading at the moment…

…as well as “Interesting stories.” Don’t know what the algorithm is here, but it’s diverse enough to encompass both a story on John Edwards’ mistress and a laptop review from my pals at PC World. At the moment, though, three of the five stories are from Salon–I’m not sure whether that’s an odd coincidence or a sign that someone at Google News finds Salon to be particularly…interesting….

Up until now, Google News has used a two-column format for its blocks of news in subcategories such as Sports and Sci-Tech. This new version gives everything a column of its own that spans your entire browser page, making for a roomier feel but more scrolling…

Each of these modules has a couple of blocks of related news stories, plus a big photo (as above). Or a YouTube video you can play without leaving the page…

…or–and this is the most offbeat new feature–a word balloon encapsulating a snipped of text from someone who’s been quoted in a news story…

Click on the “More coverage” link, and you get a full page of word balloons from that newsmaker…

Anything else new? Well, at the moment, you get a block of Olympics stories at the bottom of the page…

And even the tiny “favicon” that appears near your browser’s address bar is new (and illegible, though I think it’s a tiny newspaper–maybe they should go back to the standard lower-case Google “g”)…

Those are the major changes I’m seeing, except for a “Take our survey” link which I assumed Google was using to collect impressions of the new version…but which led to a dead page when I clicked on it. Some stuff is missing, too, such as a “Recommended for you” option and links to all-text and all-image versions of Google News.

Does this all add up to a better Google News? I’m still coming to conclusions about that. Some of the new stuff, like the videos and quotes, appears to be displacing more straightforward links to news stories. That may be fine when the new feature is nifty, as the embedded videos are. The quotes, however, feel kinda gimmicky, and one of the things I like most about Google News in its old form is how straightforward and ungimmicky it is. I’m therefore skeptical about them, though I want more than five minutes with them before I render a verdict.

Oh, and the new format seems to involve a lot more scrolling; the old one had more of a news-at-a-glance feeling.

Until now, Google News has changed remarkably little in the six years it’s been around; my eyeballs are hardwired to process it really quickly in its old format. Which means that I’d want to spend some time with the new version before I came to definitive conclusions about it. Until Google starts talking about it officially, though, I don’t know whether it’s just a test, or about to roll out as is, or whether we might end up with some of the features it includes but not all of them.

If you come across the new Google News, lemme know–and lemme know what you think of it…


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Andrew Mager Says:

    Great writeup Harry. Do you think people will use Google News more in the future?

  2. Dustin Harris Says:

    Maybe they renamed the Recommended stories to Interesting. Presumably a story they recommend for you might also be a story you find interesting. Just a guess though.

    I think I’d be OK with more scrolling in exchange for a single topic covering the page width. I already have to scroll a lot on it anyway and I don’t like the split columns that much. I’ve expanded some sections to include more stories than others, which leads to uneven topic breaks between the columns.

  3. Mathew Ingram Says:

    Harry, the speech-bubble quotation thing has been there for awhile. When you search for someone who has been in the news, you get a quote from them at the top and then you can click through and see a whole page of quotes from them. It’s kind of a cool feature.

  4. Svetlana Gladkova Says:

    Lucky you are and thank you for posting about your discovery. What I am definitely sure of is that Google will get tons of criticism in any case – no matter how good or bad the new service is – simply because everyone is accustomed to what it is now. So I think after they roll this out to everyone, they’d better have a link to switch back to the traditional view.

  5. James Says:

    I have had the new look of Google News since I installed Google Chrome the day it came out. I look at Google News everyday, and I love the new format. It is really easy and practical to navigate. I only get this new format under my personal account, but not under my business account I also have. I sure hope it become the standard.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    James: Interesting! Chrome is still giving me the old-school Google News.


  7. Jerry Says:

    This new google news format sucks!

  8. Dan Says:

    I’ve always thought that it’d be fun to change small things on a popular site to either mess with people or to see how many people catch it. I hope they’re having fun while testing their new features like I would 😛

  9. gbasnesrom Says:

    wow, i just got the new page too… interesting… mine also had a new tab icon associated with it that’s different than the current stylized “g” seen with google websites, and different than the newspaper icon that’s on the google toolbar.

3 Trackbacks For This Post

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    […] lucky one is Harry McCracken from Technologizer who has been served a totally new Google News and blogged about it to describe what we probably should expect to be rolled out in the near future. Actually the team of Google […]