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HACK
#32
Google News
Reading the latest news across myriad sources using Google News.

Contributed by:

[03/13/03 | Discuss (6) | Link to this hack]

We've all been a little spoiled by Google. It seems like whenever they release something, we expect it to be super cool immediately.

Alas, Google News is cool, but it isn't the greatest news tool in my opinion. It's barely in my top three for getting news off the Internet. To be fair to Google, though, News Search is, at this writing, still in beta.

The search form functions like Google web search—all searches are default AND. Search results group like news stories into clusters, providing title, source, date, and a brief summary (the link to the full story is included in the title). The only option beyond that searchers have is to sort their searches by relevance or date; there is no advanced search. The sort option appears on the right of the results page as you search.

Making the Most of Google News

The best thing about Google News is its clustering capabilities. On an ordinary news search engine, a breaking news story can overwhelm search results. For example, in late July 2002, a story broke that hormone replacement therapy might increase the risk of cancer. Suddenly using a news search engine to find the phrase "breast cancer" was an exercise in futility, because dozens of stories around the same topic were clogging the results page.

That doesn't happen when you search the Google news engine, because Google groups like stories by topic. You'd find a large cluster of stories about hormone replacement therapy, but they'd be in one place, leaving you to find other news about breast cancer.

Does this always work perfectly? In my experience, no. Some searches cluster easily; they're specialized or tend to spawn limited topics. But other queries—like "George Bush"—spawn lots of results and several different clusters. If you need to search for a famous name or a general topic (like crime, for example) narrow your search results in one of the following ways:

  • Add a topic modifier that will significantly narrow your search results, as in: "George Bush" environment, crime arson.

  • Limit your search with one of the special syntaxes, for example: intitle:"George Bush".

  • Limit your search to a particular site. Be warned that, while this works well for a major breaking news story, you might miss local stories. If you're searching for a major American story, CNN is a good choice (site:cnn.com). If the story you're researching is more international in origin, the BBC works well (site:bbc.co.uk).

If your searches are narrow or relatively obscure, the clustering issue may never come up for you. In that case, you won't get to take advantage of Google's greatest strength and will instead notice its weaknesses: inability to search by date, inability to sort by source, limitations on searching by language or source, etc. In that case, you might want to try an alternative.

Beyond Google for News Search

After a long dry spell, news search engines have popped up all over the Internet. Here are my top four:

FAST News Search (http://www.alltheweb.com/?cat=news)

Great for both local and international sources. Advanced search lets you narrow your search by language, news source category (business, sports, etc.), and date the material was indexed. Drawback: little press release indexing.

Rocketinfo (http://www.rocketnews.com/)

Does not use the most extensive sources in the world, but lesser known press release outlets (like PETA) and very technical outlets (OncoLink, BioSpace, Insurance News Net) are to be found here. Rocketinfo's main drawback is its limited search and sort options.

Yahoo! Daily News (http://dailynews.yahoo.com)

Sports its source list right on the advanced search page. A 30 day index means sometimes you can find things that have slipped off the other engines. Provides free news alerts for registered Yahoo! users. One drawback is that Yahoo! Daily News has few technical sources, which means sometimes stories appear over and over in search results.

Northern Light News Search (http://www.northernlight.com/news.html)

Has absolutely the best press release coverage I've found and a good selection of international news wires. News search results are organized into topical folders. Free alerts are available. Drawbacks are: only two weeks' worth of sources, and the source list is not particularly large.


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