News and history junkies, take heart: Google's new News Archive Search lets you search through 20 decades' worth of historical content, including scads of articles not previously available via the search engine.
"The goal of this service is to allow people to search and explore how history unfolded," said Anurag Acharya, Google's distinguished engineer, who played a major role in shepherding the new product.
Google has partnered with news organizations, including "Time," "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times," "The Guardian," and the "Washington Post," as well as aggregators, including Factiva, LexisNexis, Thomson Gale, and HighBeam Research, to index the full text of content going back 200 years.
Archived news results can be found three ways. You can search the news archives directly through a new News Archive Search page. You can also find news archive results when you search on Google News or conduct a general Google Web search for a query with relevant historical news results.
Both free and fee-based content are included in the archive search, from both publishers and aggregators. Search results available for a fee are labeled "Pay-Per-View" or with a specific price. Google doesn't host this content; clicking a link for fee-based content takes you to the content owner's or aggregator's Web site, where you complete the transaction before gaining access.
Search results look similar to those on Google News, with a few additional time-related features.
"Much like news, we are grouping related articles together from a given time period," said Acharya. "The ranking here, as you may expect from a Google service, is based entirely on relevance" with no precedence given to fee-based or free content. The mix of fee and free links will also vary depending on your query.
On the left side of search results are links to drill down into content from specific time periods. A blue arrow icon points to a "period of particular interest," when an event occurred or "something special happened," said Acharya.
One of the most interesting features of the new service is how it automatically creates a timeline that shows how an event or a topic played out over time. Clicking the timeline link reorders results in chronological order; you can then drill down to get content from specific dates simply by browsing. There's also an option to limit search results to a single day via the advanced search page, according to Acharya.
This is a fantastic feature for people interested in seeing how a particular historic event played out over time. It's also useful for simply keeping up with the progress of contemporary events. "We usually see history as a view of the past many years later," said Acharya. "Now we can enable you to search for anything and everything as it unfolds."
The service is rolling out with a U.S. English interface, but there's already plenty of non-English content available. "Our coverage is the deepest in English, but our plan is to expand into other languages fairly soon," said Acharya.
Google has no plans to become a content aggregator itself, or even to offer a streamlined payment system where you can use your Google account to pay for content, according to Google content partnerships director Jim Gerber. "At this point, we are focusing on trying to make the content easily searchable and navigable," he said.
Are Google's partners worried about potential future competition? "The response from our partners has been overwhelmingly positive," said Gerber, because Google is currently only providing a link to partner sites where users log in and pay. "They see this as a great source of free, very targeted traffic." Content owners and aggregators not currently in the Google News Archives program can contact Google and request to be included, Acharya added.
As ZDNet blogger Garett Rogers and former Search Engine Watch news editor Gary Price have pointedly noted, much of the fee-based content in Google Archive Search is available at no charge via many public libraries that subscribe to fee-based services and provide free access to patrons.
Google itself does something similar by permitting university users to access fee-based content licensed by the university in Google Scholar results. For now, Google has no plans to build gateways to content through public libraries.
"Today, users can't find this information on Google, so we're just making sure we get it into the index," said Gerber.
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In addition to being Associate Editor of ClickZ's sister publication, SearchDay.com, Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to Online Magazine, EContent, Information Today and other information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.
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