Thursday, May 05, 2005

Google Files Patents, Seeks Search Engine Quality and Quantity

Nobody uses Yahoo! or Lycos or any other Web search engine as a verb.

Except Google, a word that has come as close to referring to the scouring of the Web for information as Kleenex is to paper tissue and Xerox to photocopying.

Increasingly, Google News has become a go-to search engine for breaking and developing news worldwide. A news aggregate that houses over 4,500 content sources, Google covers just about anything happening on the planet that is being discussed or hashed over on the Web.

Now, Google is going a step further by filing patents for technology that will rank search results not just by keyword relevancy, but by the quality of the news sources being searched.

Reuters reports:

Google News site gathers article from disparate news outlets such as ABC News, Voice of America, the Christian Science Monitor, the World Peace Herald, Xinhua, Reuters, Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times.

Industry watchers said that over time Google News has come to depend on more established news providers for its content.

A Google spokesman confirmed that the company has applied for the patents but declined further comment regarding whether the company will use or is already using the technology.

This action has probably been taken for many reasons. However, given Google’s status as a preeminent news portal, the need for accuracy is likely one of the largest factors.

As Web logs and other commentary sites proliferate, postings from some have received prominent play within search result pages and on online news-gathering sites. Sometimes, such postings have carried biased or inaccurate claims.

The technology Google is attempting to patent may help the company choose the most reliable information sources, although some Web commentators have said it will create a bias toward mainstream news sources.

It makes a lot of sense for a trusted news portal to create some kind of quality control in its search ranking. However, this begs the question: why bring news sources into a controlled environment – a content aggregate that picks and chooses the news sources it carries – that can’t be completely trusted? I realize that that’s not an easy question to answer, but it brings in the larger issue of accuracy on the Web, and the need for people to be discerning about believing and trusting the information that results from search engine queries.

Overall, there needs to be a balance between “mainstream media” sources, which can tend to have a similar flavor (and perhaps kowtow to similar corporate interests) and independent websites and weblogs, which can bring in an enormous array of diverse opinion and perspective, but may not have the quality control and fact-checking expertise of the news behemoths.

Hopefully, Google News will strike that balance carefully and continue to be a trusted source for news and information seekers.

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