Hi, please

Tag Archives: code

Google’s Living Stories is in a Coma at the Moment

While I have tried to seek out people who are currently trying to develop Google’s code of Living Stories I was able to interview Neha Singh, software engineer for Google and another person, we will call him Eugene, at Nature Publishing Group who is attempting to develop it further.  There is a huge silence surrounding this code if in fact it was such a success that Google found it to be.  Digging around the forum and discussion group, I was able to find Eugene and inquire about how he is working on the code:

Eugene pointed me to some scientific news stories for an online journal at Naturenews.  “We’re looking at experimenting with it to show both science news and the human stories behind important scientific discoveries published in the journal,” said Eugene.  He went on to comment about the code itself and the problems that he encountered with it.  Apparently, installing and getting the code running was pretty straightforward, however, the content manager kept timing out a lot.  “I do like the possibility of applying the system to stories that have already happened though I guess they’re not “living” any more. Living Stories is a good way to browse any sort of narrative, see the people involved, browse relevant media etc.  The default content manager makes this as difficult as possible, unfortunately – to put in dates from say 1950, so you have to do a lot of clicking on a popup date widget, you can’t just type in the year.”  It was interesting to hear how Eugene was trying to use it almost like a historical and categorical reference tool along the lines of what libraries use.  This reminds me of the historical overview that wikipedia has on many topics.  The difference would be that you would have a historical time line of scholarly articles using the Living Stories interface.

Back to Google’s representative – Neha Singh>>

Neha answered a lot of my questions, but couldn’t really answer the harder ones.  To my understanding, he has to be careful with what he divulges to the public.  For example here are a couple harder questions that were asked,

1.  How does Google benefit from this type of investiture?

Our interest is in helping journalism thrive in the digital era, because it’s important to society and an important source of the high-quality information our users turn to us to find. We’re doing the Living Stories project to learn about creating more engaging experiences for consumers of news online

2.  Because Google has been deemed by some as an aggregation thief of news, was the open sourcing of this, to some degree, a  political move in a way to win over the hearts of the publishers and people?

Cannot comment.

3.  What are those two news companies doing with it at this point since they were the two main guinea pigs for the experiment?  Are they continuing to develop it on their own?

They are currently evaluating how they want to proceed.

4.  Could you give me some contacts of people who I can talk to at the NYTimes or The Post to ask them some questions about it?

I would have to ask for their permission first. So it will take some time.

5.  Is there a list or a distribution list of developers that you released it to?

We just announced it on the Google open source blog.  You would have to solicit replies on the discussion forum.
Ok, it looks like I wasn’t able to get the harder answers out of him, but they do insinuate a sense that Google is trying to help out the traditional journalism’s journey to the online environment.  I’m kinda skeptical at such a benevolent approach without any financial incentive.  Maybe that’s why Google open sourced it in the first place.  I do wonder if Google was paid by the NYTimes and The Post for their help in creating such a format.  Yet, this wouldn’t be that plausible based on the fact that they open sourced it. 

One of the biggest questions that I tried to focus on was whether or not Google’s decision to open source the code for Living Stories was planned from the beginning or was it something that was considered after the experiment was over.  Mr. Singh had informed me that, “Open sourcing the code was the logical next stage of the experiment and was always planned. From the beginning, we had said that hosting the stories on Google Labs was temporary. We want to help interested news publishers cover stories this way on their own websites. The Times and Post had teams of reporters publishing through the Living Stories format for over two months, which helped us collect a lot of data and feedback, and improve the code.“  I confirmed his statement, by checking the Google News Blog, which had indicated back in December, when Google started the experiment, that they were going to release it to the public after the experiment was finished.  This could have a tremendous impact on the way people search for news online based on the topic.  Google News aggregates and filters the topical search, but it still takes you to the traditional news article that has stayed the same for quite sometime now.  The topic of the article would be the key ingredient rather than the publisher or article itself.  Moreover, “If you look at search behaviour, that’s often what people search for (and why Wikipedia is so popular), declares  Paul Bradshaw, of the online journalism blog, on his report of Google’s Living stories.  Bradshaw asks two very important questions that many are wondering (if you decide to peruse through the discussion forum of Google’s Living Stories).

  1. How much of the construction of the page is done automatically, and how much requires someone to input and connect data?
  2. How does this address the advertising problem?

What advertising problem you ask?  Well, d3vianted@gmail.com articulates this well in the discussion forum:

Publishers want to drive people to their sites in hopes of attaining ad impressions.  Thus the “free” content they are giving away is providing some source of income.  As more and more papers see a decline in readership and their sales decline, the money their make from their online products is becoming more and more important. Living Stories takes away any ability for the publisher to direct traffic to their sites (other than name recognition and the hopeful conversion of a curious reader) or provide any support for advertisers.  Publishers would be producing content with no ROI [return on investment] simply for the convenience Google’s users.

A counter solution to this payment for content problem has just been announced by Google’s competitor Bing.  Apparently Bing is trying to help UK newspapers better monetize their online news.  Here’s the article.

Lastly, it would have taken more time to generate the contacts at the NYTimes and The Washington Post to inquire where they are taking the project at this point.  Mr. Singh could only tell me that, “They are currently evaluating how they want to proceed.”  Even if this statement foreshadows the vague undertones that surround the future of this project, it does however, imply that Living Stories is something that we could see changing the way that we consume and experience news online in the future – however long this might be.

Travelogue 3: Who is & What is developing with “Living Stories”?

December 09′ to Feburary 10′

Journalism has undergone a crisis in the past several years and so has the news that has followed it.  The ‘digital future of news’ is currently shaping the future of how we stay informed and connected to what’s going on in our world.  The internet with online news updates possesses the remarkable capacity to change the way we read news.  Moreover, news agencies have tried very hard to adapt to the changing climate of media within this digital era that has been underway for quite some time now.  Nevertheless, the multi-billion dollar corporation Google has once again tried to revolutionize the internet.  From December of 2009 – February 2010, it sought to experiment with the way people experienced the news online.  Since the experiment, there has been much optimism with how it could change the nature and interface of online news.

“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.”  - Official Google Blog

So Google decided to team up with two of the most world renowned news organizations: The  News York Times and The Washington Post to see how they could develop a way in which  people could better experience reading the news online.  Like mad scientists (engineers) stuck in  some lab in Mountain View, California they created their own version of Frankenstein… they  called it “LIVING STORIES“.  It’s aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!!!  Essentially, it is  a “new format/interface for creating and consuming news online”.    Everyday the news of a particular topic or story would be covered or    reside  under one URL with a summary explaining a general overview with live updates of new material in a timeline format, which would give offer readers,  ”a different online approach to balancing the overview [of a topic/or story] with depth and context”.

On the other hand of the debate, Google has been looked at with a great deal of animosity and dislike because of how it devalues the content on the web.  Matt Asay posted one particular comment by Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson, to call into question this widespread attitude against Google:

Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it’s terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.

Nevertheless, the question abounds to why Google would do such a seemingly benevolent thing to help out publishers and news agencies.  What is the underlying rationale or motive for helping the news agencies?  Yet, The NYTimes for example are welcoming the help from Google.  It appears as if the news agencies are following the age old adage, ‘if you can’t beat em’, join em’.  The NYTimes and The Washington Post have worked on a collaborative effort with Google so it doesn’t seem like their was any negative feelings towards each other.  It seems a big brother helping out his younger brother.  While Google has had its fair share of criticism, the NYTimes for example is trying to take its own journalistic endeavors and combine them with the ingenuity of Google.  ”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, in a statement. “I think in it, you can see the germ of something quite interesting.”

February 10′ and Beyond

On February 17th, Google decided to open-source the code to see what people and developers can do with it.  My question and curiousity, which is basically Google’s question too, is – what are people doing with the code other than making bug fixes here and there?  In other words, How are people utilizing and improving the open-source code of Living Stories?

  • My research and journey will be to figure out what I’m able to on where the project is going since its release to the public.  I have already contacted some owners of the experiment from Google that were in charge of Living Stories and even some people at the New York Times and the Washington Post to see what they are continuing to do with the format.
  • In addition, I will try to seek out some developers who are working with it to see what they have been able to do with it.
  • Lastly, I will also attempt to contact various news agencies and inquire about whether or not they would implement such a format to their online site.

In our recent weekly readings on Travelogue 3, we saw a different viewpoint on collectivism and open source.  I wonder if this would contribute to a loss of authorship or a degradation in the quality of content.  Or would it turn into “mush” as Jaron Lanier wrote about:

Actually, Silicon Valley is remarkably good at not making collectivization mistakes when our own fortunes are at stake. If you suggested that, say, Google, Apple and Microsoft should be merged so that all their engineers would be aggregated into a giant wiki-like project—well you’d be laughed out of Silicon Valley so fast you wouldn’t have time to tweet about it. Same would happen if you suggested to one of the big venture-capital firms that all the start-ups they are funding should be merged into a single collective operation.  But this is exactly the kind of mistake that’s happening with some of the most influential projects in our culture, and ultimately in our economy.

Well Mr. Lanier, it seems as if Google did just that.  It created something and released it to the public for a ‘collective action’ to implement and improve upon the original test design.  If Lanier is correct in his assertion, than Living Stories would turn out to be a mistake in the long run.  However, I don’t think that this will be the case.  I believe that it will only be a matter of time before online news slowly transforms into this type of interface.  Only time will tell.  But for now, I’ll have to find out where the public is taking this “creative monster”.  Stay tuned for more “living updates”…