Sunday, August 26, 2007

Google Special Comments

There has been a fair amount of discussion about Google's new news experiment by which they will publish comments on stories they aggregate from "those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question."

The chatter has mostly been about Google's criteria: whether it is undermining journalism and/or giving a PR gift to disgruntled subjects. But I haven't seen any discussion of what I'd say is the fundamental issue: Does Google know what it is getting into?

I agree with those who say that in not going far enough with the initiative -- open it up to everyone -- Google is choosing to empower a class that is already empowered, and which journalism exists to check. But why curtail comments and create a clunky infrastructure for authenticating "legitimate" comments that only seems to invite charges of favoritism?
Does Google really want to take a position on publishing or not publishing pushback from entities which have nothing to lose in the PR game, like Hezbollah or Al-Quaeda?

Fear that this is a unfettered megafone are unfounded, since making public statements will be challenged by, well, everyone. Global PR and marketing powerhouse Burson-Marsteller sees the pitfalls. It is a potential opportunity to take a second bite at the apple, they advise, while urging clients to be cautious:
"Clients have a great opportunity to extend the story, clarify their point of view, or correct misinformation when commenting on articles aggragated (sic) within Google News. However, given that manual intervention is required to facilitate the comments being published, a lag time may be experienced. Additionally, posting a comment may extend a story, which may or may not be desirable. Lastly, Google reserves the right not to publish all comments. Therefore, clients should not rely solely on Google News comments as their only means of responding to published news reports."
PRSquared seems to think Google will not be nimble enough to make it a great place to get in a word edgewise. "... let’s see if they can meet the challenges of Speed & Depth. Maybe they can pull it off."

Much Ado About Nothing?

This may be much ado about nothing. But the model Google has chosen seems strikingly old media. It vets submitted comments and can, at its own discretion, decide not to publish any of them. Can anybody say "Letter to the Editor (non-subjects of stories needn't bother)?

Has Google consulted with global media companies who, on a daily basis, earn the wrath of people and entities they report on? My own knowledge of the process by which one such company, Reuters, has evolved in its policy on publishing corrections and general commentary is enough to give anyone who wants to play feedback editor pause.

Does Google really want to take a position on publishing or not publishing pushback from entities which have nothing to lose in the PR game, like Hezbollah or Al-Quaeda, or a dozen or so US presidential candidates who'd love to get the last word? Or are they counting on the sort of self-restraint counseled by BM?

Having created an automated news portal many swear by and deftly avoiding criticism from content owners by directing traffic to their sites, is Google intentionally taking only a half step towards creating a community and, at the same time, making itself a target?
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Has anybody seen a story on Google News that includes a comment from a subject of the story? I'd love to see how they intend to implement this, but such stories aren't highlighted (probably sensible) so it's trial-and-error finding one. Link, anyone?

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