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Google testing Google News tweaks

Human editors are selecting stories for prominent placement on Google News, as the company also tries out a new design for the page.

Google is testing a couple of new features on the Google News page, revamping the way users see stories presented on the page and adding content selected by actual human beings.

Perhaps the most striking change (see below) is one observed by Search Engine Land, in which Google is experimenting with a blog-like design that lists news stories by category in a single column, rather than the two side-by-side columns currently used on the page. Within that column, users can set preferences as to which stories they'd like to see the most and Google will also display a "Spotlight" on certain stories across a variety of topics.

But Google News--which debuted with the promise that all stories on the page were selected by algorithms--is also trying out a section called "Editor's Picks," where editors from a small group of publications can display five stories they've chosen to highlight. The publication highlighted in that section will change with each visit to the page, with companies such as Reuters, US Magazine, and The Atlantic among the initial partners according to The New York Times.

It's just the latest move in Google's continual dance with the news industry. There's no shortage of news executives who think Google is a pox on their industry, "stealing" their headlines and content in Google News. But Google is sensitive to those concerns, having pointed out several times that it drives an awful lot of traffic to news sites and is working with news publishers to help them get their content online in a way that makes sense for editors and readers.

Not all visitors to the page will see either or both of the tests, as Google follows its usual practice of "bucket testing" new features with small audiences to get a sense of whether the changes make sense.

Search Engine Land