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Google debuts news story experiment

Search giant teams up with The New York Times and Washington Post for "Living Stories" experiment, presenting a single page of stories and related items on a topic.

Google has often been seen as a competitor to traditional newspapers, but the search giant is now teaming up with two major papers for a new experiment in presenting news online.

Google announced on Wednesday "Living Stories," an experimental new feature designed to deliver news stories, updates, editorials, and multimedia focusing on specific topics, all on one single Web page.

Each Living Story, whether it's on health care, global warming, or the war in Afghanistan, has a permanent URL that you can follow. That page displays everything from headlines to summaries to in-depth articles on that subject. By clicking on the various links on each Living Story page, you can read the articles, view photos, watch videos, and access a time line for an historical view of the topic. As new stories and updates are posted, you can read them on the same page.

Google Living Story page
Google Living Stories page Google

The Living Story keeps track of your activity, so it alerts you to updates you haven't yet seen and grays out or collapses older news that you may have already read. You can also subscribe to e-mail updates and RSS feeds of your favorite stories, so you don't need to return to the Living Story page to grab the latest news.

Since Living Stories is a new experiment in the Google Labs sandbox, the number of topics is limited. Google is working with just two media partners to start--The New York Times and The Washington Post. The newspapers decide which topics appear on their own Living Story pages. But Google has plans to develop open-source tools so other outlets can create their own Living Stories. If the concept takes off, it might prove a money maker for other publishers, according to the Times, as they could sell ads on their own pages.

Newspapers have been hit by declining business as more people have flocked to the Web to grab their daily or hourly news fix. In some corners, Google has been seen as the enemy to traditional print outlets. Media maven and Wall Street Journal owner Rupert Murdoch has even accused the search giant of stealing his content and threatened to remove his sites from Google listings.

Responding to such concerns, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently wrote an editorial in the Journal in which he argued that his company could actually help newspapers boost their business. And in the face of lower revenues, many news outlets have started to embrace the Web rather than compete with it.

From its perspective, The New York Times seems optimistic that the Living Stories experiment could lead to bigger and better things.

"It's an experiment with a different way of telling stories," said Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations of The New York Times Company, in a statement. "I think in it, you can see the germ of something quite interesting."