What? No 'Anonymous Cowards’?
Publications that have taken issue with Google for excerpting their articles have another reason to be peeved at the company today. This morning, Google added a new feature to Google News that allows newsmakers to comment on the stories in which they’re featured (here’s an example).
“We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question,” Google software engineers Dan Meredith and Andy Golding explained in a blog post. “Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as ‘comments’ so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.” You know, just like Topix. Passive news, active dialogue.
Google says it will vet comments by confirming the identity of their authors–which it must, if it’s truly serious about this initiative. But is that even possible? Comments@google.com is certain to become the Augean stable of email accounts in short order. Who’s going to manage it? And what of legal liabilities? And unintended consequences?
Of course, if Google does pull this off it may well upend traditional news as we know it. “The fact that Google is trying this is, in one sense, testament to an abject failure on the part of traditional news operations,” says Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media. “With the Net, they could have given people the chance to comment in this way–above and beyond the standard comment published as part of a story or a letter to the editor. They didn’t, and left this opening. If Google pulls this off, it will be a huge boost for one company–Google–because people looking for responses to news articles will head to the search site, not just to the site of the original story.”
Observers have pointed out the irony of the situation, because Google’s terms of service prohibit other sites from reproducing or creating derivative works from Google News, so it will be the only place they can get it. Yet Google News wouldn’t even exist if news providers were to demand it abide by similar terms.