Coming soon:Googling the truth

The Guardian

What does the truth look like? Google, the company last week confirmed as the biggest media firm on the planet, rather hopes that it reads something like this: WO 2005/029368. That’s the number of one of several patents filed in the US recently by the Californian internet giant. According to that patent, Google is for the first time planning to rank news stories according to their accuracy and reliability as well as their topicality. Google, and its heavyweight competitors, are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of staff hours into trying to ensure that when you search on the internet, you receive not only exactly the information you want, but also information that is true. During the early days of the internet boom, it was predicted that search engines would gradually lessen in importance as users latched on to their favourite sites. But the opposite has proved true, with Google and its competitors becoming the way into the web for eight in 10 web users, according to Ask Jeeves.

Google News, an offshoot that emerged directly from the company’s policy of allowing its 2,700 staff to spend a fifth of their time on their own projects, links to 4,500 sources from around the world and has become a key source of traffic for the internet arms of traditional media giants. But it makes no claim for the sources’ veracity or accuracy. Now Google is looking to develop technologies that factor in the amount of important coverage produced by a source, the amount of traffic it attracts, circulation statistics, staff size, breadth of coverage and number of global operations. A Google spokeswoman said the company did not discuss individual patents. Jim Hedger, the search engine optimisation manager of Canadian company Stepforth, says that “Google is in the midst of sweeping changes to the way it operates.” After the posting of the patents, he wrote: “It isn’t really a search engine in the fine sense of the word anymore ... It is more of an institution, the ultimate public-private partnership.” The company, famously founded in a garage by students Larry Page and Sergey Brin just seven years ago and now valued at over $80bn, recently revealed that it will pour $500m into developing new technologies this year alone.