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Tag Archives: Living Stories

Travelogue 3 Conclusion: It’s up to YOU to develop Living Stories

LIVING STORIES: What is it?

These past several weeks I decided to investigate Google’s experimental interface for experiencing news online called – Living Stories.  From December of 2009 – February 2010, it experimented by utilizing the help of The NYTimes and The Washington Post to find out if people preferred and enjoyed this new way of experiencing online news.  Since the experiment, there has been a growing optimism with the future of possibilities of how it could change the nature and interface of online news.

Watch the video to understand what exactly is Living Stories:

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Open Sourcing Living Stories:  What happened to it?

Around the time that I started to research it, Google went ahead and announced that they were open sourcing it to the public in hopes that people would find their own unique ways to develop and implement it.  So, my focus revolved around the question of, Who and what were developing the newly open sourced Living Stories???” This question lead me to dig around the website, Google Blog, online articles, and the discussion forum in hopes to find out who were some people besides Google’s guinea pigs (The NYTimes and The Washington Post: two of the most heralded newspapers in the US) that were trying to cultivate the program on their own…

According to Google, Living Stories was preferred over reading traditional news formats by 75 % of the people surveyed.  It was considered a success and so with that, Google released it to the public on February 17th, as an open source code.  Therefore, I set out to find out more about the silent success of this amazing new concept for online news.  Here is a recapitulation of my focal points for investigation:

“There are times when silence has the loudest voice” – Leroy Brownlow

  • 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.

What was I able to find out it… It’s hibernating for now

After sending out several emails to some leads that I garnered perusing around the discussion forum for Living Stories, I was able to get a hold and interview Neha Singh, software engineer for Google and another person, using a pseudonym  Eugene, at Nature Publishing Group who is attempting to develop it further for an online scientific articles like those of Naturenews.

Eugene told me that, “We’re looking at experimenting with it to show both science news and the human stories behind important scientific discoveries published in the journal”.  He was enthusiastic about working to develop the code despite running into a couple minor problems with content manager timing out, but for the most part, was hoping to develop a time line interface of historical articles with the same topic.

Mr. Singh was pretty helpful in taking the time to answer my questions, but could not divulge any information that would lead me to developers or other people who might be working on the code.  He also couldn’t provide me any contacts from the NYTimes or the Washington Post without their permission.  All he could tell me was mostly the same information that he had written on the official Google Blog nor could he answer (which I assumed) some harder questions like – Was this a political move to develop better relations with news companies and the general public by open sourcing it? He could not comment.

Another lingering question 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.  After verifying the Living Stories blog post from December when it originally started and the answer that I received from Neha, I learned that Google’s intentions from the start were to open source it after the experiment finished.

Paul Bradshaw, of the online journalism blog, on his report of Google’s Living stories.  Bradshaw asks two very important questions that I thought were worthy of including>>
  • How much of the construction of the page is done automatically, and how much requires someone to input and connect data?

This question addresses the extent and ingenuity behind the code itself.  The code creates an interface that allows for an updated version of the stories to continue to funnel down the page with several key features to choose from along the sides e.g “most popular”.  However, from talking to Eugene, he did mention that the content manager kept timing out.  So I would presume that the construction of the page is formatted somewhat automatically, but also needing someone to input and connect further stories of course.  From what I did find out about some of its features, it is capable of filtering out information that you (as a reader) have previously read and highlighting what information is new.

  • How does this address the advertising problem?

Of course, advertising is very important for publishers.  There were no advertisements on Living Stories as of yet, but publishers who adopt it could potentially post advertisements alongside the articles.  While Google announced its revenue sharing project with publishers with Fast Flip, it should be able to equally implement advertisements for revenue purposes with Living Stories “if” publishers decide to appropriate it. 

Conclusions and a lingering curiosity:

I was holding out a little longer because I was hoping to get a response from a contact at the NYTimes.  Unfortunately, he didn’t respond to my email, but if he replies in the next couple of days I’ll post an update on Living Stories. I believe that this experimental new format for online news raises some interesting questions about the simple but profound reality that it is open source.  Moreover, the silence does speak volumes based off of the fact that it was a success according to Google and their pervading optimism.  Although I wasn’t able to find out much with how people are developing the code, I would be remiss if I did not believe that we have seen the last of Living Stories. I really want to know what the NYTimes and The Washington Post are doing with it.

For one thing, profit is the driving force behind businesses and so I wonder how using the free open source Living Stories format would compare with something like the Times Reader 2.0 where the reader pays a weekly subscription of $3.45?

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”…

Google just won’t go away! Check out “Living Stories”

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Google buddying’ up with the New York Times and the Washington Post has been quite the experiment.  I wonder if this will have a huge impact on the way people will read online news as this program aggregates and integrates news information into one thread while keeping you up-to-date on what’s developing with the story.  Now it’s open source so let the games begin ;)