Google News Blames The Messenger (That Would Be Us)

from the just-trying-to-help dept

Google News has included Techdirt as one of its sources for a few years now. It doesn't bring much traffic, to be honest, but it's nice that we're included. For some unknown reason, Google News changed something on July 6th, so that all of our stories appearing in Google News now show up with the headline "Permalink to this story." We hadn't made any changes to our site, and Google News had always performed flawlessly in the past. We figured the folks at Google News might want to know about the glitch, so our VP of Product Development Dennis Yang emailed them a friendly note pointing out that something on their end appeared to have broken. What followed was a series of emails from Google staff (much of it sounding like boilerplate "canned" responses) that in almost every case blamed us for their own glitch. That's what we get for trying to point out a glitch to them.

First, they told us the problem was that we had failed to put the title of the article in the title tag. This is false -- as we've always had the title of our articles in the title tag (which seems like a fairly easy thing to check). In response, Google News staff then told us that it was still our fault, because within the article page itself, we had a link to the page with the "Permalink..." text. Of course, that's the same as most major blog platforms -- and you would think that Google's algorithms would be smart enough to understand the difference between a title and a link that says "permalink." However, since Google indicated the link that pointed to the same URL as the story itself was more likely to be chosen as the title, Dennis then added a link in the title itself on the article page to the same article page. Google News then responded by telling us again that it was our fault -- this time it was because (you guessed it) the title link linked to the same page. Yes, they now blamed us for the change they had just suggested we make.

Dennis then responded (nicely, as always) going through the facts of the case (everything worked fine, we made no changes, suddenly it wasn't working), while highlighting how we followed every one of the rules they had suggested might be the problem in previous emails. Even though this was clearly an issue on their end, he asked if they wanted us to change anything on our end to help fix their problem. They gave us one final response, saying that hyperlinks on the page sometimes fool their algorithm and there's nothing more that they can do. In other words, they admit that their algorithm is broken, but it's not like they're going to fix it or anything. Once again, the traffic we get from Google News is somewhat minimal (we get much more from Google and Google's personalized page) so we're not complaining. Hell, it's their site, they can set it up however they want. However, we figured it would be nice of us to point out that whatever change they made on July 6th introduced what appears to be a bug that hurts the usefulness of their own site. We didn't realize that we'd be repeatedly blamed for the problem, and then told that there was nothing that could be done to fix the broken algorithm. So much for trying to help...

Either way, it's clear that Google News' algorithms have some problems. It was particularly disappointing that they made it seem like we needed to make the changes to fix this -- especially after their director of search, Peter Norvig, so adamantly talked about how Google can't expect webmasters to configure things to Google's liking. Apparently that only applies to the regular search engine, not the News one. We're not the only ones to have this problem, of course. Today, InfoWorld is complaining that Google News considers their blogs a news source, but not their actual news articles. Google's response? Again, they blame their own algorithm. Of course, this inability to control their own search bot may get them into legal trouble too. While it seemed silly, when AFP got upset that their sources were included in Google News, Google promised to take them out (which actually upset AFP's partners). However, now, AFP is furious again, because they've discovered (thanks to InfoWorld, by the way) that their content is back in the news search results. So, sources that want to be included aren't. Sources that don't want to be there are. And those of us just pointing out that the system can't accurately find a title are told it's our fault. Seems like Google News might need some work.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    DittoBox, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:11pm

    Google like robots...

    Google likes to "set it and forget it". They like algorithims and robots and really don't have a human side at all. At least from my view as both a user and a webmaster.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:25pm

    I'm confused on what the actual problem is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:27pm

    Nvm, i use the google personalized home page and it dosen't show up with the perma link.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:27pm

    Nvm, i use the google personalized home page and it dosen't show up with the perma link.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:42pm

    Re:

    same here - i do not see any perma link

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:49pm

    whats a permalink

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:56pm

    step 1) Techdirt whine wastes 90 seconds of my life...
    step 2) Remove Techdirt from my Google personalized homepage

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 20th, 2006 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Re:

    same here - i do not see any perma link

    Only in Google News, not Google personalized page, or regular Google search...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Cry me a river, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:08pm

    Some people have too much time

    So the French press Agency and Techdirt are crying because they can't "have it their way", that's Burger King not Google.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Shawn, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:08pm

    If you want something done right, you gotta do it

    First off, A solution for the "Permalink" problem might be making the Permalink href into an image. It probably wouldn't be picked up by the bots by then.

    Second, Google provides a service for a wide range of people. Google News changing their service so webmasters don't have to configure anything is rather unlikely. You can't please everyone, so instead, they [probably] are trying to please either the majority or the easiest, and from there webmasters will need to tweak some of their own.

    But if Google News doesn't bring in that much traffic, then there really isn't a problem, outside of Google being a bit stubborn.

    For those who don't know: A permalink is a pernament link to a story. Like this articles permalink is "http://techdirt.com/articles/20060720/1654233.shtml" so people don't have to search the articles to find it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Richar, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:15pm

    google issue

    Techdirt shows up in my Goggle page. A few days ago I was experiencing this same issue (I think) and it seemed to be connected to my flash player. I had a clock (Lazlo) that was run by the flash player. After I deleted the clock the problem went away.

    Richard

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:24pm

    Re: Some people have too much time

    So the French press Agency and Techdirt are crying because they can't "have it their way", that's Burger King not Google.

    I think you're missing the point. First of all, it's not having it "our way." We simply pointed out that Google's service appears to be broken. We were trying to HELP them. What surprised us was the response, saying that the mistake was ours.

    If Google wants to leave their broken algorithm in place, that's their call. They just shouldn't blame us for their own mistake.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Moses, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:28pm

    To Big For Their Britches

    it seems that the "blame it on the computer" excuse has become obsoliet. I forsee many problems in their ignorant future ... of course I mean that in the nicest way possible ^.^

    I also must say that I find it very amusing that this article was linked from the Google personalized site ~.^

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Erstazi, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:44pm

    Re: If you want something done right, you gotta do

    Definately, I agree changing the "Permalink to this story." from text to an image. And with PHP its very simple.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Simon, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:48pm

    Read the article ^^^^

    It seems most the comment authors haven't even read what Mike has written. I know it's longer than the standard Techdirt missive, but still.....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    anonymouse coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:52pm

    feelings

    Are your feelings hurt because you were treated like an inept fool when you called customer service? Guess you've never called customer service before.
    Click start, goto run, type cmd........

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 6:54pm

    I do like...

    How this is the longest article that I have ever seen on techdirt

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Stupid Head, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 7:04pm

    Re: Anonymous Coward is An Idiot Who Wastes People

    No 1. Stop posting things twice
    No 2. Stop posting stupid stuff
    No 3. Get educated

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    aleeya (profile), Jul 20th, 2006 @ 7:12pm

    Evidentally the problem does not happen on a personalized page for Google, so my question to google would be what do they do diff between the news page and the news from TD on the personalized page?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    anonymous, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 7:43pm

    target audience

    This is news? do I post an article on cnn everytime I need to figure out a new linux command? aside from that, if you are reading this post: the article doesn't apply to you because your link worked. is it my imagination or is the quality of these news sites plumeting lately? or has it always been this bad and I just didn't notice?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 8:28pm

    I aggree the whole world is going to shit :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Chrissi, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 9:05pm

    Uh um er

    The only reason I ever visit techdirt is because it's linked articles from my google homepage.

    With that being sad, I have probably been on my google homepage once every 10 minutes (except for sleeping times) for the past WEEK, and I have failed to notice this said bug.

    Huh?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    EdB, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 9:22pm

    Re: target audience

    Syndication feed. Aggregator.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    DittoBox, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 9:34pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Wow...people really don't RTFA.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Sohrab, Jul 20th, 2006 @ 11:52pm

    wow. Is Techdirt sounding like the gossip girl?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    DoxAvg, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 3:17am

    Interesting insight into the life of running a major news blog. Don't let the griefers get you down, Mike.

    To the griefers: when you see an article that isn't interesting, use the button on the left of that little mousey thing to click "back". Then go on with your life. Don't spend another two minutes of your precious time complaining about somebody wasting your precious time complaining. The irony abounds.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Louis, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 4:00am

    I like techdirt

    Sucks to you who don´t. And I don´t understand why most of the comments are so negative.

    First off its in the GOOGLE NEWS section, not the Personalized Home Pages.

    Second, it was in the way Google gave Techdirt such a runaround for a flaw in their own algorithm. I´ve had the same thing happen to me a few times when dealing with bureaucratic institutions, such as Homeland affairs, the Post Office, the Telephone Company and my mother-in-law.

    It would save everybody a lot of grief if companies learn to say things like "Gee, well that´s seems to be flaw in our processes, we´ll get back to you when we fix it". And then, even if they don´t, at least they´ve given you the illusion that you´ve won the argument.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Micro$oft Junkie, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 4:39am

    Beat Google at their own Game

    Great article. Too bad Dennis had to waste so much time with multiple emails. He should have declared Google Evil! They then would have snapped-to and fixed the issue pronto. I'm sure Redmond would have listened.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Yet another Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 21st, 2006 @ 6:21am

    If you don't like Google News

    Go build you own.

    And, go beat Google with the "Evil" stick while you're at it.

    Also, please quit whining to us about your relationship - you said that you weren't getting much out of it anyway. You are better off hanging around Digg and /. anyway. They'll treat you better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Rich, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 7:27am

    Google News (Beta)

    This is why they leave the word BETA on their products for 2-5 years. By the way, I agree that this is a problem (even if it is a small one) and TechDirt was being kind by pointing it out to them (since it doesn't affect TechDirt very much).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 8:15am

    I don't understand why people use Google News anyway. It's so behind and almost useless in its structure.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2006 @ 9:22am

    Google's Full Motto

    Interesting article coming on the same day as a comparison of Microsoft's and Google's Motto) -- i.e. "don't be evil".

    I've long suspected that their full motto is "Don't Be Evil (But it's ok to be arrogant pricks)."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jul 23rd, 2006 @ 4:24am

    Re: Re: Some people have too much time

    The person is not just missing the point but doing so by a mile.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    A Bismark, Jul 23rd, 2006 @ 4:40am

    Re: If you want something done right, you gotta do

    First off, the anchor text for the link is best as it currently stands. Logical and precise.

    Second, Google News, provides a news aggregating service but does not provide guidance to the sites that its aggregating from. Guidance about what parts of their webpages it consumes their stories for showing briefs on the Google News web page.
    Heck it even shoos the hell out of people who try to help Google get this right. (Don't be evil, but be arrogant, stubborn and uptight. What a piss off!)
    Would'nt it be much nicer if Google took this response, and interacted with the news sites webmasters to initiate some kind of standard, like they did with robots.txt, to make things better for everyone?

    Third, even if Google News does'nt bring that much traffic to Techdirt, consumers like me would like things better on both Google News and on Techdirt (and other such site's) stories and the way they are shown on Google News.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Haochi, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 5:03pm

    I thought Google fixed this problem...

    I posted this on my blog a while ago, I thought Google fixed the issue, that's why I later post "Google News bug fixed" recently. It's interesting to see Google get in trouble again, how long will it take Google to fix for TechDirt? It was like two weeks for MoneyControl.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Matt Cutts, Jul 24th, 2006 @ 9:40pm

    I'll ask about this.

    I'm an engineer at Google. I'll ask some folks in the News team about "Permalink" showing up in the title for TechDirt articles showing up in News.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Dennis, Jul 26th, 2006 @ 10:35am

    Re: I'll ask about this.

    Thanks Matt! Any help is appreciated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2006 @ 11:00pm

    http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.techdirt.com

    Viewed with no styles, Permalink this Story comes up before the title. Since both the permalink and the story title have the exact same link, maybe Elgoog is trusting the first one to be the story headline/title? Just a wild guess...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This