Summer's over, the super-primaries are threatening to consume us and that means one thing if you're a news website: better figure out a way to pull in lots of politico traffic, as sites as diverse as the brand-new Star Tribune "Politically Connected" (more below) and others are doing.
My friend Alan Mutter sent a broadside flying recently with his peek into, of all things, Aussie politics. But as Alan sages points out, Google's little experiment Down Under can be easily understood as a testing ground for a U.S. push. Kind of like trying out a Broadway-bound play in New Haven.
From Alan's recent (okay, I was out of the country, vacationing and blissfully disconnected) post:
The Google election project, an elegant mashup of Google’s arsenal of search, mapping, video, widget and other technologies, is a preview of how all but the most technologically recalcitrant consumers will expect to get political – and many other types of – news in the future. In addition to delivering a wealth of well-packaged election information and interactive tools, Google has created four content-pushing widgets and a number of ways for users to express their opinions via forums and home-brewed video.
In that view, we can see not just an election push, but one that helps us answer the question about Google's direction. The envious among us can say, "Sure, Google hit it lucky and big with search-related ads, but that's the only business that's really clicked, among its dozens of beta Labs projects." And it's true that the ad business is Google's huge driver. But, we can see in this election package and in a few other fledging projects (check out the new Topix-like timeline for finding articles, at the top of Labs now under "Experimental Search") how Google is relentlessly bringing it all together.
Want to roam the Aussie political landscape visually. Try the Google maplet, which provides an entry point to lots of articles and data.
Want to munch through election data, making choices and seeing the info morph in front of you.
Want to hold candidates accountable for their votes and stands; use the specialized Google search to find out the info you need.
Lots more gadgets and ways into the info.
Take the tour here.
Say what you will about global domination, the company's been remarkably consistent in its mission statement to organize the world's information. Hugely important, in this new Internet multimedia age, Google doesn't get hung up on media type or source, as traditional journalists do. It corrals it all and is learning better how to present it. No editors to guide the process. Well, Google trusts users to sort it out, and increasingly we are.
As Alan points out, the effort is another one that is sure to leach traffic away from news websites (he's got some good analysis of where Google/YouTube traffic stands now, compared to major news brands). And he counsels that U.S. news websites better get ready for the challenge.
Just this week, in fact, the Star Tribune launched its own attempt to corral some of that traffic, with a new site, "Politically Connected." One pledge: it won't be boring, as explained here by Strib editor Nancy Barnes.
It's handsome out of the box, best so far at putting all the paper's related content on one page. It presents graphics well (a Senate race one portraying incumbent Norm Coleman's challenge here), offers a few staff blogs and a "My Vote" feature, allowing you to get customized election contests for your address. It's a good start, but will have Google (and other national sites examples) to compete against. That means it will need to ramp up video inclusion, inclusion or at least links to the wealth of good, non-staff political blogs and let readers roam around in deep databases to plumb campaign financing and votes.
Politically Connected editor Dennis McGrath says more is indeed on the way. On video: "Right now, as you can see, we don't feature video on the site with a video player or any other device. That's a temporary situation....We certainly do intend to add that dimension to our site and, in fact, the home page was designed with the not-too-distant addition of a video player in mind...." On blogs: "Right now, we're giving the most prominent positions for our own blogs. But we are pulling in blog feeds from around the web on pages like the candidate pages. On each presidential and U.S. Senate candidate page, for example, we have a module called "Blog posts featuring [candidate name]" that has a spill of 10 headline links to those blogs. We definitely are considering non-staff blogs, but have not finalized plans for that...." On databases: "We have some of that currently, including a searchable database on campaign donors [and My Vote]....And we have plans for a lot more interactivity, but I don't want to disclose those yet."
Nationally, we can see what the New York Times is up to, more Google-like, but quite NYT-centered. And I recall what the Austin paper and Pluck were up to, in the last election, trying to give candidates their own digital HQ on the web. The politics page is still up with some worthwhile Texas political blog content.
But the question for all news publishers, especially the local ones, is whether they can quickly assemble a set of content (their own and others) and tools to more greatly please the reader than the GooglePlex is planning to offer. Anyone know some great examples out there?