My relationship with Google News has always run hot and cold. No make that cold and tepid. From the very beginning of Google News as an experiment back in 2001, they refused to index my work, which they said was my fault, not theirs (“they” being an algorithm attached to an e-mail box, of course). But new evidence has recently come to light suggesting to me that Google News has an actual blacklist.
For those not familiar with the expression, “blacklist” usually refers to Hollywood screen and television writers from the 1950’s McCarthy era who were thought to be communist sympathizers and were banned from working openly in the entertainment industry as a result. Not Hollywood’s finest hour. My suspicion is that Google News has a similar list of writers it would prefer did not exist and these people (including me) are systematically excluded from having their work indexed and publicized.
Despite having given Google some of its earliest publicity in the form of the company’s first-ever TV interviews back in 1998, I’m told by friends inside the Googleplex that I have enemies in high places there, which I find flattering.
Google’s excuse for excluding me has always been that I am a sole proprietor of this operation and therefore what I produce doesn’t qualify as news. Tell that to the hundreds of companies I’ve been the first to find, the dozens of big stories I have been the first (and sometimes ONLY) reporter to cover, including a bunch of big stories about Google.
Nothing personal, it’s just the algorithm, they say.
We’re not evil, we’re just programmed that way.
When I was at PBS I pointed out to Google News that my URL was pbs.org/cringely, so I was really part of a larger operation that included news sources Google was indexing. If they indexed the NewsHour, I argued, then they had to index me. And so they eventually did — for a few weeks at a time. But I’d inevitably fall off the Google index again while some other bozo, often with a tenth or fewer readers than me, would stay on.
When I wasn’t being indexed by Google (which remains the case today) the only way my work would appear in Google News was when some other writer would cite me, which fortunately happens most weeks. Still, such second generation coverage doesn’t bring me any real traffic, I’m pretty sure.
Here’s how it would go down. I’d fall off Google News, a PBS lawyer would write to Google and I’d eventually be back on for a few days until it started all over again. The times I wasn’t indexed lasted for weeks. And when I left PBS and arrived here, well that was it. Now I really was a one-man band.
So I was very excited a couple months ago when I began writing for AOL’s Housingwatch.com site, where I currently file 1-2 pieces per week on real estate and mortgages (here’s the short version: the mortgage industry is screwed, film at 11). With something like 30 professional writers working at Housingwatch alone, I knew Google would have no choice but to index my work.
Nope, I guessed wrong.
To my surprise it looks like none of the coverage at Housingwatch or its parent AOL is being indexed at all, which is stupid considering AOL serves 15+ million readers per day.
A week ago I wrote a short piece for Housingwatch that was picked-up by the AOL home page and given prominent play. As a result it got more than 750 reader comments over one weekend — a huge number.
If you want to figure how many people read a column from the number of comments, try multiplying by at least 1000. My posts here tend to average over 100 comments, which is pretty good. But 750 comments, that’s spectacular.
Yet when that particular AOL column was burning-up the Internet I saw nothing about it on Google News. It was invisible.
How could that be? Most of the top stories on Google News weren’t getting 750,000+ readers, I was sure, yet they were being indexed.
My theory, then, is that both AOL and I are blacklisted from Google News. That’s hundreds of professional writers… invisible.
AOL is in many ways a Google competitor, I suppose. Certainly it is run by an ex-Googler, who probably left behind bad feelings. But, if true, how fair is this on Google’s part? Not very. I don’t suppose it qualifies as evil, but it is definitely petty and in no way serves Google users, who should be appalled.