In Praise of Google's "Living Pages" for Newspapers

Google has teamed with the New York Times and the Washington Post to offer "living pages" of news stories. These pages organizes many newspaper articles about the same topic into storylines that you can follow, or read about how the stories developed. For example, a page on the war in Afghanistan includes a recent timeline and lets readers follow slivers of the debate, like casualty stories or the Afghan election or just the US troop debate.

It's a cool idea that merges Google's ability to index news with the gravitas you get from major papers like the Post and Times. You can go find a page here, or stick around, check out the screen shot below and we can talk about whether this can work:

So as you can see, this page of NYT content aspires to be a one-stop shop for recent news on Afghanistan war. At the top of the page, the main story is like a small Wikipedia entry on the topic, paired with a graphic that can be a video or an interesting graph. Below that, there's a timeline that links to stories in the stream below, with subtopics on the side to help users follow the part of the story they're interested in. All told, it's an elegant move that's a logical bridge between day-to-day newspaper coverage and a Wikipedia entry on a newsy topic.

No it's not perfect. The architecture of the page has that distinct Google touch, with all the warmth and comfort of an antiseptic dentist's office. The timeline only goes back to October 2009. And the site could use some kind of search function. So if Karzai isn't a subtopic, but I want to read the latest on him, I can't search for his name in recent articles. Bummer.

But here's one thing I really like: the page keeps track of you. So if you go back to the page and there's been no recent news on Afghanistan, it tells you so at the top of the page. I like this for two reasons. First it could turn this page into a key learning tool, highlighting the aspects of the debate that have changed since you last perused the story. Second, from an advertising perspective, if Google could build user profiles of readers and their stories and interests, it could help deliver more targeted advertising to those readers and split the revenues with newspapers. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has repeatedly praised highly customizable advertising on mobile devices as the inevitable future of online revenue. This simple page could be a step in the right direction.