Gizmag has been writing news for the web for over a decade now, and during that time, Google has continued to influence what we write and read about on the web. This week Google launched a new portal designed for journalists called Google News Lab, officially acknowledging what's been known for years now and formalizing the relationship between the company and journalism in a new way.
Earlier this month, I virtually attended a Google News Lab training via webinar along with a number of other journalists. Many of News Lab's tips and tricks for using Google to add valuable data, images, videos or maps (just for starters) into the reporting process have been pretty well known in journalism circles (especially the online media) for years now, but the new initiative creates a hub for these tools with new tutorials for journalists.
This is all handy for a working journalist and an interesting validation of how journalism really works in the modern era, but the most newsworthy part of Google's News Lab announcement is its long-awaited update to the Google Trends site, which was first announced last week.
Trends is one of those tools that plays a big role in how the news is covered online, even though most of the public has probably never actually used it. It is both a trending list of the top searches and news stories of the day, and also a searchable database that allows anyone to look into the past and see when and where certain search terms were generating interest, and even correlate them to other search terms.
Trends is just one of the ways that Google has turned journalism on its head. For better or worse, it used to be that seasoned journalists were the gatekeepers of the day's information, deciding which stories would make it on to the evening's newscast or the front page of the morning paper. While this still happens today, thanks to Google (and increasingly to social media) every journalist is now exponentially more aware of what information the news-consuming public is actually interested in, and coverage is often tailored to meet these demands.
Google Trends has been one way for journalists to view the public's list of demands, but up until now it has suffered from a major shortcoming, in that trending search data was not made available in real time.
The new Google Trends launched last week not only offers data on actively trending search terms in real time, it can even project levels of interest on certain search terms in to the near future.
Take searches for the dwarf planet Ceres that NASA's Dawn spacecraft is currently studying from an increasingly close orbit, for instance.
The new version of Trends not only shows that search interest in Ceres peaked in March when Dawn reached the large asteroid, it also forecasts the future level of interest in to 2016. It's also possible for me to drill down and see how the topic has been trending in the past day and even in the past hour, data that Google has never allowed public access to until now.
I can also see that Ceres is currently generating a high level of interest in Iceland in particular, for some reason, which might lead a journalist to investigate some sort of link between the mission and the small island country. Trends also shows that people are searching for "pyramid" in relation to Ceres. This tells us that there's probably a desire out there for more information on the pyramid-shaped peak on the surface of Ceres that NASA pointed out in a photo taken from Dawn last week.
What all this means is that when a story goes viral, there's a good chance that you might soon start to see even larger flurries of blog posts on that topic than has already become the custom online.
You might see this as a curse, further amplifying the fleeting but intense light that today's 24-hour news cycle tends to shine on the story of the hour. But it can also be used as a valuable tool to unearth stories that might have otherwise been missed (seriously, why is Iceland so interested in this asteroid?) or to go more in-depth on important topics that hard data shows people care about.
As part of its News Lab announcement, Google also shared information on partnerships with newsrooms and startups to use data to better empower both traditional and citizen journalists. More about those efforts in the video and source links below.