A rather harmonic picture of the collaboration between publishers and and the world's biggest search engine was painted by Google's strategic partner development manager, Madhav Chinnappa, at the World Editors Forum in Hamburg on Friday. "Everything is in the control of the publisher," Chinnappa said, and "I think you should take my appointment as a good sign."
The expectations with Google are so high, he added, that there is a tendency for people to focus on the negative. "You have to focus on the positive part of collaboration," he believes. Tools like Google's Living Stories are experiments and "they may not be perfect right now. But they're an attempt to stimulate," he said.
Living Stories was originally developed in conjunction with The New York Times and the Washington Post. It collects all the coverage of an ongoing story on a single URL, and articles in the story are listed in date order starting with the newest at the top. Readers can view the story through text, graphics, timelines or quotes.
Google now allows publishers to implement this experiment through its open source API. It also wants to work further with web developers and journalists. "Living Stories is an open API - you can develop it as you wish," Chinnappa summarized.
Reading news on the web is a very different experience to reading on paper and one that can still be improved, Chinnappa said. "If you take a newspaper, the way that you consume the content is quite elegant and beautiful," he said. In order to make content on the Internet as comfortable to consume as it is in the traditional way of reading the paper, it is necessary to find different ways to read it. "Fast Flip was an experiment with a number of publishers to see if there was a way we could do this," he said. If users spend more than ten seconds on Fast Flip they are 52% more likely to click through to an article, Chinnappa said.
Chinnappa also mentioned other Google projects involved with news, such as Editors Pick, which users human editors' judgement to serendipitously find stories that the algorithm wouldn't, or YouTube Direct, which gives news organisations the advantage to take part in the "revolution in citizen reporting," so that publishers can concentrate on editorial and journalism.
Like his colleague and fellow conference participant Philipp Schnidler, Chinnappa spoke about the potential of Google Translate for news organisations. The BBC, for example, used it for a programme which allowed comments in eight different languages which could then be translated as necessary, and allowed commenters to have a dialogue in multiple languages.
"When a new medium comes up, we normally transfer the old structure and content into the new medium. We're in that transition phase right now," Chinnappa said. Next, it's time to figure out what you can really do with it.
"It's difficult to experiment agile and nimbly with all of these publishers at the same time," Chinnappa added. "I would like to figure out how we can do things with the industry in a scaleable way."