A twist in Google's algorithm

Boston - Google News, which has long relied on automation to deliver news content from countless providers, has announced a twist in its algorithm: It will now recognise "featured" content among the tens of thousands of stories it delivers every day.

Google announced on Saturday that news organisations can now add "standout" metadata tags to stories they're proudest of - like exclusives, scoops and investigative projects - and the US edition of Google News will consider including a "featured" label with the story on its news homepage and in search results. There's no guarantee a story tagged this way will be featured, but Google's algorithm will factor the tag into its decisions, the company said.

"We can showcase that standout piece of journalism in Google News by putting a 'featured' label in front of it," said Google News product specialist David Smydra, who announced the new option at the Online News Association conference in Boston. "And that featured label will help that article persist while other news organisations are following and developing their coverage on that story."

There will be such a thing as too much self-promotion. If a news provider puts the standout tag on more than seven stories in a week, the algorithm won't factor it in as much, or may ignore it entirely, Google says.

And the company is urging news organisations to share the love by using a different new tag - as many times as they want - to highlight strong work by other providers.

"The way we've designed standout is that when it's used both ways - for calling out their own work and calling out the work of others - that builds our trust in that source," Smydra said. The Google News algorithm takes it from there, making stories by such sources show up more prominently on the site.

At Google News, where algorithms rule, the notion of featured stories is the latest sign that the company is reimagining - though certainly not abandoning - its automated approach to distributing news. Earlier this year, the site introduced "Editors' Picks," a box on its US homepage that features stories selected by the editors of a particular publication. What you see in the box depends on your news preferences, as detected by Google, or you can specify your preferences manually.

Over the past couple of years, Google News has also introduced features to personalise news feeds and offer recommendations based on the stories readers have clicked on before.

Google News is touting its latest new feature as focusing on high-quality journalism and "giving credit where credit is due," as Google said in its blog. Of course, with the biggest stories, there may be some differing opinions among news organisations over who deserves Google's "featured" recognition.

"There will probably be many publishers clamouring for that," Smydra said. "We think that's great." 

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