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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Q&A On The New Google News Comments

Google News To
Newsmakers: Send Us Your Comments
from me earlier covers the new system that
Google unveiled today allowing for comments on news stories. I’ve now had a
chance to talk briefly with Google News business product manager Josh Cohen
about the system, to better understand its goals and potential future. Below,
some answers to several questions that have been floating around.

First and foremost, Josh stressed that this is very much something Google’s
testing and where it leads remains to be seen:

It’s an experimental launch. Is it going to work? We don’t know. We’re
putting it out there to see what type of comments we get and how it works.

Who exactly is a story participant, eligible to comment?

If the subject or someone related to the organization is mentioned, they can
give their comment. If you’re mentioned in a story or quoted in it, you’re a
participant. Even if you’re a reporter writing the story itself, you’re a
participant.

What motivated the launch of this feature? In particular, Google’s cofounders
have both expressed concerns in the past that news articles don’t often tell the
full story, with Larry Page cited [page 297] in John Battelle’s book
The Search that journalism was
"extremely flawed" and Eric Schmidt
talking recently
that false rumors are less likely to happen if more "original source material"
is online. Is this in reaction to those types of things?

It’s not really a comment on news reporting but more how do you get more
comments out there. We’re not reporting on stories ourselves. This is just
another perspective. It’s pretty consistent with what we’ve tried to do with
Google News in general, tried to offer many perspectives on the news. We do that
today.

In talking, Josh mentioned soliciting some comments, to sort of kickstart the
process. How many, and any particular stories? He didn’t have figures offhand
but said it wasn’t something Google expected to do in the longer term.

With a new feature, no one knows about it, so the feeling was we’ll have to
do solicitation of the feature to get people get more aware of it. We have
relatively modest expectation of the comments we’ll get at first. We’re sort of
bootstrapping it in a little bit at the start, and the goal is that it will
eventually fuel itself. As for stories we’re soliciting comments on, we’re not
looking for any particular category or level of story, but for the purposes of
this test, we will not be soliciting comments on any story about Google or
relating to markets in which Google may participate.

I asked about how many comments have come in so far and the quality of them,
which got a fairly general answer:

We have some comments on the site, and we’ve been pleased with what we’ve
been getting so far.

Any way to see just stories that have comments? No, but that’s a feature
Google is currently working on.

How about link backs for those giving comments? Easily done, I was told.
Those sending in comments should simply include a link to a site or bio
information about them. You can also include links as part of the comments you
email. Josh added that those comments aren’t being edited at all. So if you
misspell, on your head be it!

After the interview (Josh only had a few minutes), I sent some further
questions in for Google to answer in general.

How about more clarification on how verifying source is done? Seems like
giving Google a phone number to call you at would be pretty easy to game. I was
told:

Google confirms the identity of each participant individually. The means
for confirming the identity may differ on a case by case basis, but no method
is foolproof.

Is this a push for Google to be in the original content game? Nope. Google’s
official line is that while these pages are part of Google’s information
mission.

We don’t want to create content, and we don’t want to be in the content
creation business. We want to be the conduit connecting people with information.

Several places (such as
IP Democracy
and Wired)
are asking if Google is going to be concerned about libel or other issues if it
publishes comments that might be deemed to harm other individuals or companies.
Somewhat related, Steve Rubel
suggested
that Google will be playing gatekeeper over what comments you’ll allow. But your help files
suggest that there are very few
reasons (such as
hate speech) where you would not post a comment. Can you explain more — will
any valid comment really make it up? And what’s the expected turnaround time?

We’re launching this experimental feature to give participants in a story
the chance to directly comment on it. Their comments are linked alongside the
normal media coverage of the story.

The reporter and publisher are considered "participants" in the story, so
they may also comment.

We don’t have editors, and we don’t verify anything other than identity for
the comments — the statements are from the contributor only. We’d only remove
comments with proper legal process. Even if these comments are false or have
spelling errors or typos, they’ll be judged by the readers, but we’re not
going to jump in the process of editing participants’ comments.

I’m still waiting to hear back on these remaining questions:

  • But what about concerns (such as at

    Micro Persuasion
    and

    Ars Technica
    ) that you’re taking the "conversation" away from source
    documents and bringing it over to Google?
  • Since there’s going to be valuable information in these comments, shouldn’t
    Google open these pages up to others to crawl, as Gabe Rivera from Techmeme
    urges?
  • Are public relations firms considered "participants" in a story, if they
    represent someone or some company mentioned?
  • There are lots of questions about how time consuming this will be. Did you
    add people specifically for the project, and how staffed up are you?

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