Google's New, Little, Algorithmic, Arbitrary #Longform Play

Folks are searching for happiness, but it won't lead them to nirvana
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It's a hashtag, it's a movement, it's a compound word of suspect etymology: Today, Google announced a new feature to help its users find quality, long-form journalism among search results. For many search terms, specifically general ones like "happiness" and "love," users will now see a block of news stories (with the name of the publication and its logo featured) under the title "In-depth articles." In the example given in Google's blog post, a search for "censorship" turned up a New Yorker essay by Salman Rushdie, a Wall Street Journal investigation into the private Iranian internet, and a book excerpt by Jared Cohen and -- lo and behold -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

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Google's new "in-depth article" feature joins its main search product and, notably, not Google News, the company's other service meant "to ensure the survival of high-quality journalism." The company used to call features like that 'OneBox', and in the past few years, their number and quality has grown. Search for "weather" and the site provides your local forecast, with a graphed-on-the-fly temperature chart; ditto sports scores, public statistics, and recent earthquakes.

"In-depth" is a neat euphemism on Google's part for the long-form content which, a few years ago, became hip as a counter to the web's supposed tendency to shrink both attention spans and journalism products. And while its examples are a little comical (it's hard to imagine a user finding happiness through a Google search, in anything but the literal sense), the new feature adds another quiet, arbitrary battleground for news organizations. Those three first-page Google Search slots, un-purchased, un-purchasable, seem both random -- Rushdie? the WSJ? -- and, with their high-profile placement, incredibly remunerative. As Megan Garber wrote on the tenth anniversary of Google News in 2012, news organizations can't say no to a feast of traffic, and the mammoth of Mountain View always assures it.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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