Tuesday, December 8, 2009
[cross-posted from the Official Google Blog]
There's been no shortage of talk recently about the "future of news." Should publishers charge for news online? How do they replace lost sources of revenue such as classified ads? How will accountability journalism endure? And, even more fundamentally, will news survive in the digital era? These are questions we're deeply interested in, and we've been exploring potential solutions. But what's often overlooked in these debates is the nature of the news story itself and the experience of how it's read online. We believe it's just as important to experiment with how news organizations can take advantage of the web to tell stories in new ways — ways that simply aren't possible offline.
While we have strong ideas about how information is experienced on the web, we're not journalists and we don't create content. So over the last few months we've been talking to a number of people to help develop the concept of something that we and some others in the industry call the "living story." Today, on Google Labs, we're unveiling some of the work we've done in partnership with two world-class news organizations: The News York Times and The Washington Post. The result of that experiment is the Living Stories prototype, which features new ways to interact with news and the quality of reporting you've come to expect from the reporters and editors at The Post and The Times. We're excited to learn from this experiment, and hope to eventually make these tools available to any publisher that wants to use them.
The idea behind Living Stories is to experiment with a different format for presenting news coverage online. News organizations produce a wealth of information that we all value; access to this information should be as great as the online medium allows. A typical newspaper article leads with the most important and interesting news, and follows with additional information of decreasing importance. Information from prior coverage is often repeated with each new online article, and the same article is presented to everyone regardless of whether they already read it. Living Stories try a different approach that plays to certain unique advantages of online publishing. They unify coverage on a single, dynamic page with a consistent URL. They organize information by developments in the story. They call your attention to changes in the story since you last viewed it so you can easily find the new material. Through a succinct summary of the whole story and regular updates, they offer a different online approach to balancing the overview with depth and context.
This project sprang from conversations among senior executives at the three companies. We shared thoughts about how the web can work for storytelling, and the Times and Post shared their core journalistic principles. The Living Stories started taking shape over the summer after our engineering and user interface teams spent time in the newsrooms of both papers. We're providing the technology platform, the Times and Post's journalists are writing and editing the stories, and we're continuously collaborating to make the user interface fit with their editorial vision.
Over the coming months, we'll refine Living Stories based on your feedback. We're also looking to develop openly available tools that could aid news organizations in the creation of these pages or at least in some of the features. If you're a news reader, we'd love to hear your thoughts. If you're a news organization, we want to hear your comments on the Living Story format. If you decide to implement this on your site, we would love to hear about that too. At the very least, we hope this collaboration will kick off debate and encourage innovation in how people interact with news online. To see how Living Stories works, check out the video below.