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Google Labs experiments with news, creates 'Living Stories'

December 8, 2009 |  4:35 pm

Google Living Stories Logo Google today said it has developed an experimental news site that it calls "Living Stories."

The idea, jointly developed with the New York Times and the Washington Post, is to pool together the many disparate stories a newspaper writes on a single topic, such as healthcare reform, into a single Web page.

Readers can customize pages based on the topics they wish to read. Each page automatically updates to include new stories on the topic, and remembers what the reader has already viewed to serve up newer or related stories and photos.

Living Stories was launched today in Google Labs, an area reserved for products that are not yet ready for prime time. The page currently has stories only from the Post and the Times, which worked with Google to develop the prototype.

"This project is a pilot," said Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google News, in an interview. "The idea is to make improvements based on the feedback we receive, then make those tools more widely available."

The concept of grouping articles by topic isn't new. Yahoo came up with its version, called Yahoo News Topics, two years ago. Here's Yahoo's page on "Google," for example. What's different is that Google sees publishers using Living Stories on their own websites, not just on Google. Here's an example from the Times of what a page about the war in Afghanistan looks like.

Publishers have no lack of options when it comes to digital distribution models as they cast about for a way to make up for the losses in print circulation and advertising. Just today, a group of five major publishers announced they would jointly build an online storefront for readers to buy magazines and newspapers. You can read more about that announcement here. Many see the effort as a response to Amazon.com's Kindle model, which pays publishers 30% of the revenue generated from the sale of periodicals.

So what's the benefit to publishers of going with Google?

Cohen said it's a happy union of developing a reader-friendly experience while maximizing a website's rank with search engines that can drive traffic to a publisher's website.

A page containing links to many stories on the same topic tends to rank higher with search engines than a page with a single story. This explains why Wikipedia is often at the top of a search results page on any given query.

"On the search side, there’s a single page to point to," Cohen said. "Instead of thousands of links, there is a single point of reference. And that’s helpful for users as well."

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

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