12.14.2009 11:05 AM
Google debuts news-by-topic service with leading news organizations

Google, joined by the “New York Times” and the “Washington Post,” last week unveiled a new approach to presenting news online by topic, called “Living Stories.” The idea behind Living Stories is to experiment with a different format for presenting news coverage on the Internet. If the new technology is successful, the news organizations said it would be made available to all publishers.

Google, which has been portrayed an enemy to both print publishers and broadcasters, has tried in recent weeks to position itself as a friend to the industry. However, Google’s executives have long argued that the tools their company has developed, including search, make them ally to the news media.

Last week, Google also announced some changes in the way its search function interacts with news sites, giving publishers more flexibility in blocking access to their sites, or in setting limits on how much material a reader could see before encountering a demand for payment or registration.

Living Stories groups articles and other material by subject matter. It begins with eight broad topics, such as health care. The project is now at livingstories.googlelabs.com, part of Google Labs. If it is judged a success, it would eventually reside on the site of any publisher that wanted to use it.

At the head of each topic page is a summary, a timeline of major events and some pictures, followed by the opening sections of a series of articles, in reverse chronological order. A set of buttons allows the viewer to narrow the topic by several criteria, including looking only at images. One of the more appealing features is that a reader can call up the entirety of an article without navigating away from that subject page, reading one piece after another without using the “forward” and “back” buttons.

“It’s an experiment with a different way of telling stories,” said Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations of the New York Times Company. “I think in it you can see the germ of something quite interesting.”



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