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Google's Timeline: a Graphical, Glitchy Take on the News

Yesterday afternoon, Google unveiled a new, experimental interface for its Google News site -- an interactive timeline view.

Instead of the usual list of links provided on the standard Google News page, the timeline appears as a grid that you can scan through by dragging the cursor left, right up or down inside the page (left or right take you forward or back in time, up or down let you scroll through the stories that ran in a given period of time). Buttons at the top allow you to restrict the display of relevant stories to those that appeared on a given day, week, month, year or decade.


It's a neat implementation of the "river of news" concept -- and an excellent exhibit of why traditional news organizations look foolish getting angry at Web sites when those sites just might dream up better ways to present their work.

But you can also see why this appears on Google's experimental Labs site. For example, a search for "Dulles metro" didn't yield any relevant stories newer than Jan. 8, while the same query on the regular Google News page turned up more than half a dozen items from just the last few weeks. The screen shot above, meanwhile, illustrates how the timeline search can mix in results with no discernible relevance among the stories you were looking for.

Likewise, the "Add More Queries" link, which is supposed to let you choose sources you like, seems to operate at random. I couldn't add the Post as a newspaper search or plug in the Capitals and Nationals as sports score queries.

Neither Google's blog post announcing the Timeline site nor a help document explained why I would get such odd results.

Some of the timeline browsing features also invite confusion. Until you realize that clicking on the chronological column headings zooms you in (from decade to year, from year to month, from month to week, from week to day) and double-clicking zooms you out, it's easy to get lost. And unless you turn off the default saved query of Time magazine by clicking the blue "x" next to it, you may wonder why you see so many irrelevant magazine covers.

Is News Timeline worth a bookmark, or is it just a novelty best ignored for more straightforward news-site designs? Give it a test drive and let me know what you think in the comments here.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 21, 2009; 12:36 PM ET
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Glitchy? That about sums it up. But, similar to other google products, the company doesn't really TRY to help its users make the most of its products. You can’t talk to someone and it seems that the platform, or browser, has a lot to do with the presentation.

I looked up “Alzheimer's” and a few other terms and the results didn’t seem too bad. I tried adding The Virginian Pilot to the “Add More Queries” option. The results are as follows:

Fsview And The Florida Flambeau
The Aberdeen Times
The Action Free Press
The Advocate
The Altar And The Throne
The Argus
The Arizona Weekly Miner
The Arlington Times

Actually, the online version of the Pilot is called the PilotOnline, so I tried the search again, and got the same results.

Hmmm... well, I always get a little scared when it says “Labs” instead of “Beta. I'll check back later…

Posted by: ummhuh1 | April 22, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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