There are two kinds of newsagents on the Net: One gathers and publishes news; the other collects reports from many sources and profits from organizing them. And the former regards the latter with mixed feelings. On one hand, news aggregators bring readers to a Web site. On the other, they are seen as parasites. Opinion remains divided as to whether their overall effect is positive or negative.
For example, a newspaper employs journalists who gather news, conduct interviews and then write stories. Then aggregator sites like Google News collect those stories and publish abstracts and links to them either from a home page or in response to a user's search query.
In the past, German publisher Hubert Burda -- whose company publishes over 250 magazines worldwide, runs one television channel and around 30 radio stations and employs over 7,000 people -- has been one of Google News' most outspoken critics in Europe. In the face of dramatic declines in advertising revenues and growing competition from Internet information sources -- where news often costs nothing -- Burda has said that, "all of those taking part in this area must agree to the rules of the game in order for there to be fair competition."
Publishing houses don't earn nearly enough online, Burda told the business publication manager magazine in an interview earlier this year. "Currently there is only one victor in this area -- and that's Google with its links from search queries to concrete content offerings," said the media mogul, who is also president of the German Association of Magazine Publishers (VDZ). Burda described Google as a "killer application" which delivered almost half of all traffic to local journalism Web sites and yet managed to keep almost one-third of all Internet advertising revenues in Germany for itself. "All of that without making any investment of its own in the expensive business of journalism," Burda noted.
Burda called for amendments to copyright and even suggested that Google should pay for the use of news it had not produced itself. Of course, the search engine wanted nothing to do with this suggestion.
Last week Burda put his money where his mouth is. His company has been one of the most active online since the mid-1990s, and he wasn't about to cede the news business to Google News. Burda planned to compete directly with Google. And late last week Burda's Tomorrow Focus Portal gave birth to the Web site Nachrichten.de, which translates from the German as "News.de".
Burda's aggregator site carries headlines from 482 sources in German publishing and posts them online. The site offers a variety of added extras -- from news tickers and personalization options right down to choosing which sources you get your news from.
However, as is the case with other news aggregators, there is still plenty to find fault with. The most problematic aspect is the way in which the news aggregator, like its predecessors, works. The algorithm such systems use is based on quantity rather than quality. In other words, the more times a news item is mentioned, the more likely it is to show up prominently on the news aggregator site.