History, according to Google News

Google Labs has rolled out a new service, called Google News Timeline, that lets users view news coverage as it developed over a period of time. And while it's still a little buggy, the service looks like a fairly robust research tool.

For example, Matt McGee at Search Engine Land set the timeline to show weekly coverage for "somali pirates" from March 15 through the current date. At a glance, he could see when the now-famous U.S. ship was attacked, that the captain was held hostage, that he was eventually freed and then stories on the crew's reaction after the event.

As it stands currently, the new Labs feature offers users several ways to customize search results, including a choice of news types (newspapers, magazines, blogs, videos, etc.), multiple sources, variable time segments (day, week, month, year or decade) and the ability to avoid content from certain sources, say Time Magazine or Wikipedia, both of which tend to get overly high play in the results.

Still early users were quick to point out some bugs, which are probably to be expected given that the service is a Google Labs offering. For example, McGee tried to include Seattle newspapers in his search, but his only option was for the West Seattle Herald (no Seattle Times or Seattle P-I). Similarly, Erick Schonfeld at Techcrunch had trouble switching from year to decade and back to day. (Timeline brought him back to the present day, which it thought was 2003.)

Damon Poeter at ChannelWeb also found some interesting search anomalies:

[We] discovered that nobody in the wide world of media used the word "netbook" in a story prior to March 28, 2009. Another oddity was the inclusion of Time magazine cover images in the results of every single search we tried, including for "Newsweek."

But overall, the tool is a nice useful addition to Google News, as long as users remain aware of the caveats. As Poeter says, the tool is great for providing a "zoomable, graphical chronology of all the news stories, videos and photos," but only for stories "that Google told us were important in the first place."

Check out Google News Timeline and add your opinion to the discussion.

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