Google News has begun experimenting with a section titled "most shared" on its home page, apparently tracking activity on outside social networks including Twitter. When people say that some amount of social technology is going to infiltrate every nook and cranny of the internet, they aren't kidding.
The new feature has been given subtle placement on the page; it appears just below the Fast Flip section, near the bottom right hand corner of the page - where probably a mere several million people will see it each day. Its appearance was first reported by independent watch dog blog Google Operating System. At first blush, the new feature has some up sides and some down sides.
early in 2010. The company is believed to have paid millions of dollars for access to the Twitter firehose, which dominates the real time search section of the site.Google started including Twitter, MySpace and a number of smaller social networks in its "real time updates" section
We've emailed Google for confirmation that this in fact where it's looking for sharing activity.
The Good News and the Bad News
Why not count the links in that real time stream and use those analytics to do interesting things in Google News? It appears to be a wise move, though it's nice to see the new feature displayed low on the page.
That's because these kinds of "most popular" widgets run a serious risk of building a self-fulfilling, self-referential, lowest common denominator news cycle that mirrors the old ways and worst parts of broadcast news. Not to mention the risk that the algorithms be effectively gamed by sites pumped up by drooling half-human spam-bot marketing zombie accounts on social networks. Some kind of algorithm must be in place, too, to separate ostensible news coverage from craven link-bait, in the case of sites that publish both.
It would probably be safe to assume that there's some hybrid human eye being kept on what gets into this "most shared" section, much as tech news aggregator Techmeme has humans augmenting machines.
On the other hand, such a feature could help highlight another perspective on important news being passed around. It might catch some things you might not want to miss. Individual human editors, pure algorithms and social popularity contests all highlight different content at different times. If I'm looking for general interest news, though, I'd like even that analyzed from multiple perspectives. That's why Newsy is one of my favorite mainstream news services.
Day in and day out, I'll take a long-tail of smart, topical content that enriches my life and mind, whether millions of other people appreciate it or not. But if I was on the front page of Google News and saw the "most shared" widget? Yeah, I'd check it.