Google News was born in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. An unprecedented act of terrorism on U.S. soil, by a foreign militant group led by Osama Bin Laden, changed the course of history. People around the world were trying to comprehend what had just happened, and its implications to public safety, foreign policy, financial markets, and their own lives. Much of that exploration happened online.
At Google we realized that our ability to display links to the freshest and most relevant news was limited by a fundamental problem: fresh news lacked hyperlinks. Google’s ranking depended on links from other authors on the web. Fresh news, by definition, was too fresh to accumulate such links. A new importance signal was needed.
I realized that if Google could compute how many news sources were covering the underlying story at a given point in time, we could then estimate how important the story was. Thus, “Storyrank” was invented. This insight led to a ranking that combined the editorial wisdom of many editors on the web in real time. In addition to making search better it led to Google News - a display of stories in the news ranked automatically by an algorithm. This also allowed us to group news articles by story, thus providing visual structure and giving users access to diverse perspectives from around the world in one place.
After 10 years Mr. Bin Laden is in the news again. The story of the killing of Bin Laden has taken the online world by storm. This time, relevant coverage from around the world is just a click away, in an automatically compiled Google News cluster with more than 80,000 sources.
We have certainly come a long way in the last decade. Indeed, Google News now has over 70 editions in over 30 languages, and sends over 1 billion clicks a month to news publishers worldwide. Additionally, 1 out of 6 web searches on Google includes a set of news results, which are computed with the help of Storyrank. This helps bring coverage of the most important news story matching the query to the top of the ranking.
In the last 10 years there has been a lot of learning, iteration, and innovation in our team. And most importantly, we have acquired a loyal audience of news enthusiasts, who appreciate diversity and the ability to access multiple points of view on a story. To our users we would like to say “Thank You!”
We wanted to share with you some of the news coverage of the death of Bin Laden. Here is a sample of 100 links to news articles from representative sources worldwide:
For those you who enjoy digging into data, here is a much larger list of over 150,000 links to news articles mentioning Osama Bin Laden over the last 5 days (May 1-5, 2011).
One of the many lessons I learned from 9/11 is that the world is highly connected. We live in a global society crisscrossed by virtual and physical dependencies, where knowledge is power and ignorance has consequences. This is a world where knowing what is happening to people in other parts of world, and understanding their circumstances and beliefs, matters more than ever -- because their actions will ultimately affect our lives. Tools such as Google News, which bring order to information and make search smarter can help us cope with the complexity of news and understand the big picture.
Further, as the wave of revolutions in North Africa demonstrates, online information does not merely reflect world events -- it can even cause them. These are indeed exciting times for those of us who work in the news space and get to witness the impact of journalism on society first hand!