googleWhilst everyone is eagerly following the news of the Ipad, the news of something quite different but vastly more important has been making less buzz. Google’s latest foray into becoming a powerful media provider is something that anybody who reads, or produces, news content should take note.

Google’s Living Stories was a jaw dropping experiment held from November until February by Google in association with both The New York Times and The Washington Post. It is a way of presenting an individual news story in a way that differs from the way they are currently presented in both newspapers and news websites. It is an amazing amalgamation of newspaper and internet technology that could change news forever.

The way a person reads a newspaper is dictated by the way a news story is laid out. In order to be both engaging, succinct and informing, a newspaper story  is structured in a specific way. You have the attention grabbing headline; then the subhead detailing the key-points; then the stories first and leading point (the lede); followed by the rest of the story. This structure has passed onto the top newspaper websites – take a look at the Daily Mail website or the Guardian Website. On both a traditional newspaper page and on a newspaper website the rest of the page is given over to other stories.

So if you are following the developments of any given story online, you will repeatedly go through a series of newspaper style pages. This is what is so special about Living Stories. Instead of having a webpage that gives space to other stories, Living Stories dedicates the whole page to that individual story and structures all available space to the news of that story.

It allows a reader to tailor the presentation of a news story to the way they want it. So say you want to follow the election – rather than relying on an updated report from a newspaper or typing your key themes into Google News, Living Stories will:

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  • Summarise things you have already read and order them in a read archive
  • Unify information so that no time is wasted reading the same news twice
  • Provide a stream of updates
  • Allow you to follow the information through a variety of themes – including key players, quotes, themes, pictures, video
  • An interactive timeline highlighting important events

So if you want updates about the Liberal Democrats, their involvement in any scandal, policy or campaign will be instantly accesible from the filter bar on the left. Google’s experiment shows to what extent the internet is going to make the reading of news much smoother, more customizable and more open. As opposed to the newspapers static report, this way of structuring the news will continually adapt and embrace technological changes.

Feedback from the Living Stories experiment was positive – 75% of people prefered this new way of reading news and became more engaged in the story. A reader can scan the most recent developments or delve deeply into editorial discussion, all accessible from a single webpage. It could be argued that this form of news will empower a reader.

The design also encourages a level of participation beyond the simple comments section of the olden days. A blog post with an engaging headline could recieve as much attention as a professionally written article. I also imagine a user will have a greater ability to engage with the buzz through social media platforms like Twitter.

The code for Living Stories has been released by Google as open source for the world to experiment with and help bring the project to life. News organisations around the world will begin looking at how this new interactive and useful platform will benefit them. Google rivals Microsoft haveannounced a similar platform with the intention of helping content providers and news organizations monetize their work.

So, is Google the future of news? I think that answer is a clear “Yes”. It is what the world has been waiting for – and it could bring about a level of engagement with news content the likes of which the world has never seen before.

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