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Google First Click Free gets you under paywalls -- but only five times

Google has added an option to its First Click Free feature that will allow publishers to place a limit on how many free stories you can read before you're asked to cough up

Google has placed a limit on how many stories you can read from certain news sources. The First Click Free option allows publishers to offer readers the first page of a story for free, and they will now also have the option to limit readers to five such free stories in a day.

First Click Free is Google's way of indexing content on sites that require registration or payment to read the news. The technology allows Google's crawler to index content by reading the first page, rather than finding itself looking at a registration or paywall page. Readers are able to read the first page too, and are asked to register or pay when they click to the next page.

Previously, you could peruse as many first pages as you wanted. Now, you'll be limited to five. When a site detects you've read five stories for free, it will automatically show you a registration page when you try to read more stories.

In a blog post, Google senior business product manager Josh Cohen spun the technology as a way to avoid 'cloaking'. This term refers to sites indexing different pages to the actual content. Aside from the technical issues highlighted by Cohen, Google's move looks like an attempt to placate disgruntled content producers.

Google has clearly realised it needs to do more to appease rumblings among publishers that search engines effectively steal content, a viewpoint championed by Rupert Murdoch. Cohen addresses Murdoch's threat to pull News Corp content, saying: "Some publishers have asked: should we put up paywalls or keep our articles in Google News and Google Search? In fact, they can do both -- the two aren't mutually exclusive." Opinions vary as to whether News Corp jumping ship will do Google more damage than it will the News Corp sites themselves, but, with Microsoft ready to pounce on the rift between Google and publishers, the search giant is trying to make itself more palatable to content producers.

Update: Google has also introduced a new option that allows publishers to easily withdraw content from the search engine or Google News. In a blog post, webmaster trends analyst Jonathan Simon outlines the new pieces of robots.txt code that publishers can insert into their sites to tell Google's crawlers to crawl a page only for search, only for news, for neither or for both. Google will be hoping that publishers opt to withdraw content from Google News specifically, rather than taking the nuclear option of withdrawing from Google entirely.