Google News to allow people in stories to add comments

Newsmakers' own opinions will 'enhance the news experience for readers'

Google News is adding a new feature that will allow people involved in news stories to add their comments to the Web page.

Google this week began adding a mechanism that allows people or organizations who are part of a story "to enhance the news experience for readers," Google software engineers Dan Meredith and Andy Golding noted in a blog post.

"Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story," the blog post stated. "Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as 'comments' so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report."

Google will work with each author individually to confirm their identity by contacting the organization affiliated with the author, contacting local officials or collaborating with journalists, according to the company.

In one early example, comments were added to a Google News story by Malcolm John, a physician who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco. He commented on news that Pfizer had received FDA clearance for a new drug to treat HIV, although he was not explicitly mentioned in the story about the drug's approval.

Google is accepting comments only in the U.S. initially, but it may expand the feature to other editions of Google News, according to the blog post.

Tony Hung, who writes about Web 2.0 issues, blogged that the new feature is almost like bringing a blog-like aspect to news "without having the trouble to set up a blog or having a place to host it to have your opinion noticed." Hung added that the new comments feature "allows people in the story to relate their story, and then distribute it for public consumption and conversation."

However, Philipp Lenssen, who runs a blog about Google, noted that the feature could dilute news reports. For example, Lenssen wrote, if a news report about food poisoning in a company's products includes comments from the company in the form of a "factually wrong but well-written counterstatement to Google News," readers might assume the original story was wrong.

Ionut Alex Chitu, who also maintains a blog about Google, noted that the success of the new feature will be limited unless Google allows more people to participate.

"Google has all the tools necessary for citizen journalism (mobile video upload in YouTube, mobile photo upload for Blogger [and] personalized Google Maps), but it doesn't use them," Chitu wrote.

The problem with accepting comments, he added is "that all of these take time, and the reaction might come too late, when the story is no longer important."

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Heather Havenstein

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