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2/7/2008
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Google News Adds Local Content

Users can get local news by typing a city name or ZIP code into Google News.

Google on Thursday gave users of Google News, its news aggregation service, the ability to view local news stories.

"Today we're releasing a new feature to find your local news by simply typing in a city name or ZIP code," said Google software engineers Andre Rohe and Rohit Ananthakrishna in a blog post. "While we're not the first news site to aggregate local news, we're doing it a bit differently -- we're able to create a local section for any city, state, or country in the world and include thousands of sources. We're not simply looking at the byline or the source, but instead we analyze every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located."

Google News entered beta testing in 2002 and was officially released in January 2006. It has become a major source of referral traffic, and thus ad revenue, for online news publishers. It represents the latest in a series of Google properties to gain geo-awareness, a necessary feature for location-based ad targeting. Although Google News does not include ads, Google nonetheless derives ad revenue from the traffic it sends to publishers participating in Google's AdSense program.

The addition of locally specific content may put some pressure on Topix.net, an early community news site. Google News draws about seven times as much traffic as Topix worldwide, according to ComScore.

Rich Skrenta, founder and former CEO of Topix, however, believes Google News still can't match the local knowledge at Topix. "It doesn't seem like Google is going as far as Topix did in finding local references in non-local sources," he said in a blog post on Thursday. "Now if Google just add[s] 50,000 vetted local blogs to the mix, and a community with 100k posts/day, they'll have something."

In 2003, Google said that Google News tracked more than 4,500 news sources. Newsknife.com estimates that Google News currently tracks more than 6,200 online publications.

Google News, for all its importance to publishers, remains something of a black box. And Google prefers it that way, in part to discourage efforts to game its system for selecting and placing news stories.

In an interview published in July 2003, Krishna Bharat, the Google engineer who developed Google News, offered only a vague sense of how Google News finds and arranges stories. "As with Google WebSearch, Google News employs many different metrics for determining the relative importance of Web pages," he said. "PageRank is one of these factors, but the exact mix of determinants is part of our secret sauce and not something we're able to discuss in detail. We can say that Google News also integrates other attributes, such as the recency of the content, to help determine which stories get the most prominence."

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