Yesterday afternoon, between celebrating the first Social Media Day and Amazon’s interesting purchase of Woot, Google launched several new features on its Google News aggregation page—the site's first major redesign since its 2002 launch.
"The idea is to provide news tailored to the user,” says Ben Ling, director of product management for Google. Under a section of the Google News page titled “News for You,” you can select what kind of news you’d like to see based on subject (world news) or a specific topic you want to follow (soccer, anybody?). You can also choose to get more of your news from sources you like and less news from sources that don't interest you. (This doesn’t impact how a news organization ranks generally, just how it ranks for you.) And if you love a story so much that you must share it with your Twitter or Facebook friends, that’s now a click away.
The result is essentially a customized newspaper. And if you’re worried about missing out on very important news because your interests range from political scandals to Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, don't be. The new page design includes a list of top news on the left-hand side.
Are these changes significant? They could be. Google News already sends one billion clicks to publishers every month and an additional three billion clicks from things like Web search and iGoogle. We all know social networks are how news travels fast. With Google pushing for news customization, it is becoming a more social entity, which may well be useful if the mega search engine really plans to launch a social-networking site.
As for the response to the new bells and whistles—well, some folks don’t love the new look based on the comments posted to Google’s blog. “There’s always some resistance to change, although we’ve talked to users and gathered metrics, so there’s a good set that are pretty happy with the new options,” says Ling. And if you're still hoping Google will consider creating the choice to keep the old settings, it's currently not in the plans. Sorry. But look on the bright side, for at least the next several months you’ll still get all of your news for free. The not-so-secret secret, after all, is that Google is working on a payment system for publishers, which we’ll probably hear more about before the end of the year.