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Google News comments likely to be panned by major corporations

Google today introduced a new experimental feature in their News – they’ve added story participant comments [1] into their listings of stories.

Google News

I think it’s a cool idea, since it invites more community participation in story threads – sort of an evolutionary step on the old threaded format of the old Usenet layout paradigm. If you’ve ever had a story written about you in news media, and were disappointed to see that the reporter made a mistake or neglected to mention something that you felt was important, this would be a convenient route to mitigating it.

But, from what I’ve seen commonly happening in the contemporary business community, I’d bet that most of the major, publicly-traded companies will not engage in commenting on stories about themselves. Read on and I’ll describe…

Most of these companies have a rather old-world mentality about PR, and a considerable amount of bureaucracy to making any public statement at all. Their public affairs offices would wish to obsess over the best response to a story, while their legal departments would want to also vet the communications to excise liabilities such as SEC restrictions on making statements that could be perceived as inaccurate or intended to falsely influence stock valuations. Considering the hurdles to getting anything published, these public affairs departments would likely avoid providing comments altogether, and even those interested in participating might not be able to accomplish publication approval before a story in Google News has already moved out of the limelight.

Danny Sullivan also questions why Google wouldn’t instead display links to blog commentary [2] – a point which I think is well worth mentioning. While I think this experimental feature is cool, it does tend to break one of the emerging standard protocols of the online space: using blogs to comment on news stories about one’s self or one’s company. Why wouldn’t Google instead enable a story participant’s official blog to display links to comments on news stories?

Perhaps Google wants to open this up to all the people/companies who do not have blogs. But, it’s odd that they wouldn’t first enable links to blog commentary, a la Techmeme [3] style. Techmeme does a really cool job of displaying links to news stories, and then provides a little range of links of blogs and other news sites commenting on the story. If Google’s desire was to open up to everyone who didn’t already have blogs, I think they still have some problems: the very companies who don’t already have blogs in one form or another are the ones who would have significant heartburn with using this new comments feature.

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