Two internet giants have made announcements this week that suggest the increasingly thin boundary between social media and the news is about to be stretched to its limit.
The first is Twitter, which has just released a new "top news" feature. The function means that when a user searches for a news-related term, they are not only shown relevant tweets, but are also given a link to one related news story. The release was first reported by Coleen Taylor at GigaOm who responded positively, calling the new function a "nice move". "Twitter has established itself as a great platform for crowdsourced information and citizen journalism, but these new features should help to make the site equally useful for finding stuff from traditional content producers such as news organizations," she wrote.
Still, Jeff Sonderman at Poynter spots a potential pitfall. He notes that Twitter only seems to show one story for any search term "so the publisher who wins that spot for a given story will win big, while others will be shut out." He also points out that it is not clear exactly how Twitter will select its top article. But whatever system it uses, the result is that Twitter is moving "from being a passive conduit for messages toward actively curating Web content based on tweets". Does Twitter want to be less of a publisher and more of an editor?
The second internet powerhouse mixing social media and news organisations is Google. Google's Eric Weigle announced in a blog post on Wednesday that if journalists link their articles with their Google+ profiles, Google News will show their name, the number of people who have them in their circles and, for lead articles, their profile picture. Responses to the initiative have been mixed. On the one hand, Journalism.co.uk notes that "it could be a smart move from Google's point of view as it could encourage journalists to start using Plus". Nieman Journalism Lab's Megan Garber has reservations but acknowledges that "Journalistic transparency is almost always good; same deal for the features that allow for connections between journalism's producers and its consumers".
On the other hand, as Emily Bell eloquently points out on her blog, there is a major issue with Google only providing information about journalists from their Google+ profiles, not from Facebook, Twitter or from the pages owned by their own news organisations. She writes that Google is guilty of "using strength in one area (news search) to leverage weakness in another (social)"
In the end, she argues, Google giving greater exposure to journalists who are on Google+ won't help them filter the best news. "It is not beneficial for journalism in the way that Google and its supporters would have you believe. It is only beneficial for Google," she concludes.
Despite these misgivings, these initiatives from Twitter and Google don't come as a big surprise. Technology writer Alexander Howard (and yes, I found his information because his article is linked to his Google+ profile) says that the integration of Google+ and online journalism was "probably inevitable". Mixing traditional news organisations and social media does seem to be a growing trend. The introduction of media Facebook apps at the f8 conference, which allow users to read articles from papers like The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal entirely within the confines of Facebook already broke the boundary. And as the Editors Weblog noted back in September, Google already influences which news content readers see to a certain extent.
Still, as internet giants tie themselves more closely with news organisations, perhaps there's a danger that the needs of the readers will be overlooked. Following the f8 conference, Mark Johnson, Community Editor at the Economist, tweeted "It seems the Guardian's new facebook app auto-shares everything I read. I can see why they like it. But why would I?"