Google has hatched a plan to boost the visibility of its existing local news product, and in the process is testing a whole new way to get people to pay attention to the news that is geographically most relevant to them.
Google is testing a local news “card” in its Google Now service, which is built into all new Android smartphones and is available on the iPhone through Google’s Search app. Google Now is a logical vehicle for local news because one of its primary functions is knowing where you are and providing information that is “contextually relevant" to you, as specified by your interests, the time of day, and your location.
This beta test has not been previously disclosed, and is currently being carried out solely within Google itself, but its existence was revealed to me last week in an interview with Johanna Wright, vice president of search and assist at Google.
Read more. [Image: Darryl Dyck/AP]
THE SAGA OF ME NOPE-ING THE FUCK OUT CONTINUES
Putting local news in context could make it relevant in a way that simply dumping it on a site that people have to remember to go to might never. It transforms local news into a push medium, since Google Now is constantly deciding which cards to preemptively display to people, in a process known internally on the Google Now team as “triggering.”
Google News is run by algorithms, but even algorithms have the editorial priorities of their creators built into them. Does this mean Google Now is about to become an expression of Google’s increasing civic-mindedness, alerting us to the same kinds of important (but easily overlooked) local news about courts, politics and ordinances that regional newspapers once covered? That depends entirely on whether the local news sites from which Google News draws its content continue to cover those issues—but at least now, they could have more visibility.
1. The “triggering” thing a) is just a really unfortunate choice of term but also b) reflects my whole giant problem with behavioral economics. Rather than using the influx of psychological and behavioral data to humanize and expand the reach of economic analysis, to get away from the mechanical nature of it, these techniques are used as another form of control, another way to see people as machines who can be manipulated by pulling the right levers. (I’m not saying people don’t generally respond in predictable ways to particular stimuli; we do. But that shouldn’t be the basis of how we look at ourselves and how we try to create and reshape our world.) What could be part of a shift toward a less predatory and unsympathetic system is instead used to support the existing capitalist and social structure. This is a minor, apparently benign version of it, but it still wigs me out.
2. We already know that our governments have influence over major tech companies in terms of the use and sharing of data. Who’s to say they won’t be able to influence which news gets displayed to a user? The insidiousness of a service like this is that it gives the consumer the suggestion that they now know everything. It discourages you from looking further or digging deeper. If a given story is omitted, most likely people will never go looking for anything they might have missed, and so the concealment of it is basically accomplished simply by omission.