from Reuters, 05/05/05:
Web search leader Google Inc. has applied for U.S. and international patents on technology to rank stories on its news site based on the quality of the news source, according to patent applications obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
Google's (GOOG - news) search engine now automatically scours some 4,500 news sources and highlights stories, typically by popularity and timeliness, although Google does not disclose full details of its ranking system.[LBE note: but the patent better disclose this.]
Google News site gathers article from disparate news outlets such as ABC News, Voice of America, the Christian Science Monitor, the World Peace Herald, Xinhua, Reuters, Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times.
Industry watchers said that over time Google News has come to depend on more established news providers for its content.
A Google spokesman confirmed that the company has applied for the patents but declined further comment regarding whether the company will use or is already using the technology.
As Web logs and other commentary sites proliferate, postings from some have received prominent play within search result pages and on online news-gathering sites. Sometimes, such postings have carried biased or inaccurate claims.
The technology Google is attempting to patent may help the company choose the most reliable information sources, although some Web commentators have said it will create a bias toward mainstream news sources.
Google filed its U.S. patent application in September 2003 and it is in line for review by patent examiners. It covers "systems and methods for improving the ranking of news articles" based on the "quality" of the news source.
According to that patent application, factors determining such rankings would include: the amount of important coverage produced by an identified news source; a human opinion of that source; network traffic to the source; circulation statistics; staff size; breadth of coverage; and the number of bureaus the news source operates.
Google's related international patent application published in late March under the Patent Cooperation Treaty and was first reported in New Scientist magazine this week.
"It sounded to me like it would be useful not just for news but for search results as well," said Topix.net Chief Executive Rich Skrenta, who had not reviewed the patent applications.
The risk in depending only on large, established news providers is that a news site "might be leaving a lot of really good material on the floor," Skrenta added.
Topix.net is an online news service that gathers stories from thousands of sources around the Web as well as from such places as college newspapers. In March, newspaper publishers Gannett Co. (NYSE:GCI - news), Knight Ridder Inc. (NYSE:KRI - news) and the Tribune Co. (NYSE:TRB - news) each bought 25 percent stakes in Topix, while company founders retained the last one-quarter stake.
Online news has become an increasingly competitive market as newspaper circulation declines and mainstream news organizations look for ways to hold on to readers, many of whom favor sites that gather stories from many sources over those run by a single news outlet.
Yahoo Inc. (YHOO - news) recently gave a visual make-over and technological boost to its online news site, which is the most-visited in the United States. Yahoo gathers news from disparate sources via direct feeds and a Web crawler. But unlike Google News, Yahoo News employs human editors and carries advertising.