Big Think Interview With Josh Cohen
Josh Cohen is the Senior Business Product Manager at Google News, where he manages global product strategy, marketing, and publisher outreach. He was previously vice president of business development for Reuters Media and director of business development for SmartMoney.com.
Question: What is Google News, and how and when did it come about?
Josh Cohen: Yeah. So, actually it's an interesting about Google News. It started really as an idea from one of the early, early engineers at Google, somebody named -- and engineer named Krishna Bharat. Krishna was one of the first hundred or so employees at Google, and people have probably heard Google has 20 percent time where engineers are really encouraged to do things in their 20 percent time, things that aren't necessarily their day jobs. And Krishna had worked on clustering technology in his graduate work, and he started thinking about how to apply that towards news. And it actually sort of came about shortly after September 11th, where Krishna is -- went to school in the U.S. but is originally from India -- and when the September 11th attacks hit -- I mean, obviously this was a story for New York, it was a national story, it was an international story. And Krishna had his sort of regular sources that he would go to to sort of check out the news of the day.
But this was this huge global story, and he really wanted to understand how the rest of the world was responding to it. I mean, what was the different coverage like? So beyond just the sources that he knew and would go to on a regular basis, what was the rest of the world saying about this? So he really just in his spare time put together this demo where you sort of crawled the Web looking for news information and clustered it by story topic as opposed to by sources. And so that way you could get all these different perspectives on a given story, whether it's a different political perspective, a different geographic perspective, in some cases different languages as well, and that was sort of the germ of the idea behind Google News. And so this was sort of -- he had a working demo in late 2001, and then it really launched in beta in the beginning of 2002. And obviously, it's sort of changed significantly since then, and now Google News is available in over about 30 different languages, and upwards of 50 different editions or domains.
Question: How has Google News improved or gotten smarter over the years?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, so I think one of the things I just mentioned is actually a pretty good example of that, which is user behavior. If you look at sort of a story cluster, it's probably not a surprise that the first link in that story cluster that has the headline and the actual snippet gets far more clicks than the second and third and fourth and so on. That's not a huge shock. That's pretty consistent with what you see on Web search results as well. But if you think about a user behavior, they're supposed to, they're supposed to go and click on that first link. When a user comes in and doesn't click on that first link, and instead clicks on that third or fourth link -- maybe it's just the source name -- they weren't supposed to do that. You know, they weren't supposed to click on that link. Over time, as you aggregate that information and normalize it for click position, it can become a really, really strong signal for us to try and determine what a user thinks a trusted source is.
And just, you know, giving an example, if you look at a business story, and you've got a cluster of stories, and maybe you've got The Wall Street Journal or Reuters or Bloomberg, and they're ranked in a third or fourth position. A user may come in and say, I don't care that Google is telling me that this is the third most important link; this is a business story, and that's the source that I want to go to, and they'll click on that. You flip that around to, let's say it's a sports story, and maybe we've got The Wall Street Journal ranked first, and a used may say, I don't care that this is ranked first; I want ESPN or Sports Illustrated. And they'll bypass that first link from the Journal. So you can really begin, edition by edition and section by section, to understand a user's trust of a given source. And that becomes a really good signal for us to use, again, separate from the story variable rankings, but just all things being equal, how do you make some sort of distinctions between the sources? So that's one that we've really made much better use of in the last year or so.
Question: What exactly is a search algorithm, and how does Google News’s algorithm differ from Google’s?
Josh Cohen: Sure. Yeah, it does. I mean, I think the mission behind Google News is really the same thing that we're trying to do with Web search overall, for the Google mission statement, of organizing the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. That's what we're trying to do for news as well. We're just trying to sort of apply that to -- in every single different language, every single country, every single source, and ultimately down to every single story. So the process of putting together Google News, I think the easiest way to think about it is in sort of three easy steps of how you get to Google News. So first is the crawl process, where we go off and actually crawl the Web looking for news information. There are -- technically it's the same process as Web search does. There's a Google bot or crawler that will go off and index information.
There are two key differences, though, in the crawling process between how news works and how Web search works. One is that Google News is a closed index, versus an open index for Web search. And what that means is for Web search, if you put up a personal blog, you start a Web site tomorrow, at some point Web search is going to go and pick up that information and index it. Google News is focused just on news sites. So it's a smaller set of sites. So it's -- we're really just looking for news sites, so it's a smaller set of sources in our index. And the second is the speed with which we'll crawl it. So Web search has hundreds and millions of different URLs that they're trying to crawl. And for Google News, we have a smaller set of that, but it's also the speed with which we crawl; it has to be much, much faster. So Web search, you'll have a wide variety of crawl times, because if it's a personal blog, maybe you update it once a month or so. You don't need to crawl it every single second. For news, since we're crawling these news sites, speed just has to be -- it's a matter of minutes. It really has to be as close to real time as possible. So that's one key difference in sort of the crawl part of it.
The second part of this whole clustering, which is again one of the key innovations that Krishna applied to news, which is taking all these different sources and trying to cluster them into similar types of storylines. So it can be trying to understand, obviously, the same languages, same editions, same topics, and those same story clusters together. And then the ranking part of it is completely different from Web search. And you'll hear things -- when people talk about Google Web search, you'll hear about page rank, and inbound links and outbound links.
And it's really a very different process that we're trying to do for Google News. So some of the things that we're looking at is obviously timeliness -- that matters for a news site; location: is it a local source reporting on a local story, doing original reporting? That's something else we're going to take a look at, as well as the nature of the source as well. So it's not just -- you know, it's not a human coming in and saying, well, this is a good source or a bad source, but rather looking at a number of different signals to try and determine the quality of a given source. Are they producing the original content? You know, how do users respond to the brand? Is there a sort of certain value when they see that link, and sort of -- not just the most clicks, because that becomes somewhat self-fulfilling, but rather trying to discern the user's trust for a given source. So those are all things that are really unique to news as opposed to how Web search works.
Question: Is Google News used more as a substitute for other news sites or as a research tool?
Josh Cohen: Yeah. I mean, we really see our role as a starting point for people when they're looking for news. Our goal is really to try and help people find the information they're looking for. Again, in that way it's no different from what we're trying to do in Web search. You know, we'll share headlines or snippets or sometimes just the source name itself, and then when people want to read that story, we send them directly off to the publisher's site. So within a given month, just from Google News alone -- not even talking about Google, the broader search index -- we send about a billion clicks every single month to publishers worldwide, because that's really consistent with what we're trying to do. We don't have content; we don't have any editors and journalists creating stories. We're just trying to surface that great content that people are creating every single day, whether it's traditional sources that have been around for hundreds of years or new startups that are just fresh to the market.
Question: Rather than indexing all the world’s information, will Google now have to compete to index as much as possible?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, well, I mean I think that we have no intention of paying simply for indexing information. But I think sometimes there is the perception that it's an either/or proposition, that I can put my content on the Web and make it freely available, but if I decide to put up a pay wall, it can't be -- you know, I can't make it discoverable. And that's not the case. And actually, publishers who decide to put up a pay wall can still be discovered within Google. And Wall Street Journal is actually -- is a perfect example of that. Since they've been on the Web they've always had at least some set of their content behind a pay wall, and they've charged subscribers for that. And that content has been available within Google News and also within Google Search as well.
So there are opportunities for publishers if they decide that they feel they can charge for that content -- users are willing to pay for that -- they can do that and still decide that they want to be discovered within Google. So it's not -- I don't think -- there are a number of different options of how they can do so, so it's not a -- I don't think it has to be an either/or proposition. I think it would be a worse thing for the end user if there are certain searches that return certain information and other ones didn't, but a publisher can decide how much access they want to give for different search engines, and do that fairly easily with just a simple bit of code on their pages right now.
Question: What do you see as the major sources of tension between Google News and its critics?
Josh Cohen: Sure. I mean, I think there are a couple of things. One is something that we certainly -- everybody sees it -- there's just been a tremendous amount of upheaval in the news space, and beyond just sort of the news space, in content creation overall. I mean, the Internet has been really just a phenomenal thing. I don't think anybody would argue that the Internet hasn't brought this great opportunity for users to get new information from so many different sources in so many different ways, and really to own that experience and be much more in control of what they read and where they read it from. But that has meant a significant change to the business model. So if you look at a -- in the past, if you had a local newspaper, that was your one source for information. If you -- Buffalo News, for example -- if I wanted to get information about Buffalo, sure, that was my key source. If I wanted information about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that was my source. If I wanted to know what was going on in Washington about the debate over -- about health care overhaul -- again, Buffalo News was my source for all that information.
Online, it's so easy to navigate to so many different sources that you no longer have that stranglehold on information. And I think everybody would argue that that's a tremendous thing for the end users, but it's a challenge for the business model. You no longer have that sort of local monopoly. So that's one thing I think that just -- Google sometimes becomes synonymous with the Internet, in good ways and in bad ways, so anything good that happens with the Internet, that's Google. And anything bad that happens because of the Internet, that's Google as well. So I think part of it is just that: I mean, we are associated with some of that disruption. So I think that's part of it. The other is this sense that Google gets value from indexing the content. And in that case, I think everybody at Google would agree 100 percent: there's no doubt that Google receives value from our ability to index high-quality information on the Web, whether it's news or otherwise. If there's not high-quality information on the Web, not much to search for. So we definitely receive value from that, and I don't think that's in dispute.
But I think the part where there sometimes is a disconnect, which is the value that we deliver back to publishers. While we do get value from indexing, it's to help people find that information. So we in turn drive -- again, you know, the traffic that I talked about going off to publishers -- there is significant value that we deliver to publishers, and that's not even getting into the different tools that we have available to help them make a better Web site, things like Google Maps or YouTubes, where they can leverage our technology to make for a better Web site; and obviously the whole part of our business that deals with helping them monetize it, whether it's things like AdSense, contextual advertisements or double-click, which is ad-serving technology. So not even touching those business relationships, there is value that Google receives, but there's also a significant amount that we deliver back to publishers.
Question: Is there any legitimacy to Rupert Murdoch’s argument that Google is stealing from him?
Josh Cohen: I think there are a couple of things. I mean, some of the issues that I was just talking about, just the general challenges of a changing business model. But as I said, I think that we do deliver value back to publishers, but as far as whether it's legal or not, we respect copyright law. And you know, if we -- we show no more than a headline or snippets, sort of what's sort of considered fair use, but it's sort of -- it's not even a legal debate, because there's no -- we don't force any publisher to give us their content. So in the case of a publisher who, you know, decided they wanted to put content on the Web but didn't want Google to crawl it, that's very easy to do. You can do that either by contacting us or simply but putting a bit of code on the page. There's something called robots.txt, which is -- at its most extreme says do not crawl this site at all. And you can direct that to specific search engines; you can say I want Yahoo! to crawl this, but I don't want Google to crawl this.
But there's also a number of different fine-grain controls that publishers have within a broader protocol that's called Robots Exclusion Protocol, that allows you to say I want you to crawl this, but I don't want you to show any images; or I want you to crawl this, but I don't want you to show snippets. That's too much; I only want you to show a headline. So there's a range of controls that publishers have. So you know, I'm probably not the right person to get into the legal debate and the ins and outs of fair use, other than to say that we respect copyright law. But there's -- it doesn't even need to be at that stage, because if publishers don't want us to index their information, and don't feel that we're delivering value to them, they're in complete control about whether or not we're able to index it. They're in complete control about whether or not they want to charge for that information or not.
Question: Has a hybrid model of free and paid content (with limited vs. full access) ever worked for publishers?
Josh Cohen: Sure. Well, I mean, I don't know the specific economics of it, but I think that The Wall Street Journal -- again I'll point to a News Corp property -- is a great example of -- you know, they are -- they do well in terms of traffic and their online advertising, and they also have a very healthy base of online subscribers. I think the challenge is -- again, going back to the idea the distribution model has changed -- you need to offer something of unique value to users if people are going to pay for it. Now, the Journal has great business reporting, things that you can't necessarily get anywhere else, the things that their readers rely on for -- from them -- as the source for this really crucial information, in this case information that makes them a lot of money. You see this as well with things like Bloomberg and Reuters that deliver directly to terminals and traders, information that people can profit from. Or again that they simply can't find anywhere else.
What will not work, I believe, on the Web is any sort of commodity information. I just don’t -- just personally, I don’t see that working on the Web, where before, if your competitive advantage was your means of distribution -- again using the Buffalo example -- I was the only place that you could get information on Buffalo, and now all that other information is a click away, and if it's all the same information, I think there are just too many sources out there, both traditional and new. But again, if as a source you have unique information that I can't get anywhere else, and the Journal, the FT, Consumer Reports -- all different examples of sites that have really valuable information for their end users -- I think there's a place for paid models.
Question: How would you advise Rupert Murdoch or other old-media executives to repackage their content successfully?
Josh Cohen: I mean, it really depends. There is no silver bullet for any and all news organizations, but it's -- and I admit it's somewhat vague to say, well, you know, what is uniquely valuable to your end users? But it's going to depend on -- you know, it can be local information -- so I'll keep using the Buffalo News example -- if this is the place where you have a community and information about Buffalo that I can't get anywhere else, great. But it doesn't have to be -- I mean, there's a lot of discussion about hyperlocal and, you know, the local advertising market, and so sure, local is one way to slice it. But it could just be -- you know, something else I've heard talked about is, you know, in New Jersey, all the pharmaceutical companies that are there. So maybe there's an opportunity -- sure, it can be New Jersey, but maybe it's also -- this is -- the area of interest there is pharmaceutical information.
Somebody at -- a person at Google named Bob Wyman who always sort of talks about this, and this sort of these different verticals that are there. So it's really about finding like what's the information I have, what's the talent set that I have? And it can be -- the content is obviously a big driver of it, but it's also the user experience too. Like how can I create an experience that people can't get anywhere else? So part of that can be community, part of that can be technology, so I mean, I think you're seeing this as well with different applications, whether it's the iPhone or android applications, they're things that people can't get anywhere else, which can be content, or it can be -- just means of how they interact with your content and information, how they interact with the rest of the users on your site.
Question: What’s at stake for Google if News Corp or other companies shield their content from your search engine?
Josh Cohen: I mean, I think we -- you know, we certainly want to be as comprehensive as possible, so we hope that all publishers continue to allow us to index their information. But I think there are just -- there are so many different sources that are out there, depending on what it is, I think there are just so many different ways to get at that information. Again, unique information that's not available within Google -- that's not good for us. I would also argue, because of the value that we deliver publishers, it's probably not a great outcome for them too. So I think it's -- I think we -- it really is a symbiotic relationship, that there is value for us in being able to have that information on our site, and there's value for them in helping us -- in having us direct people over to their sites.
Question: Does confrontation with Murdoch worry you?
Josh Cohen: No, I mean -- look, these relationships that you have with publishers that really scan -- it spans just a sort of a wide area of interactions with Google. I mean, we work with publishers -- you know, certainly there's the news side of things and the traffic and the distribution of the content, but we have strong partnerships with these publishers, whether it's in the advertising part of our business or YouTube, in content partnerships or technology, or any number of different ways. So, I mean, we value these relationships, and I think we certainly want to continue to work with them. I mean, I was on the other side; I mean, I sort of was used to working with Google, and you know, there's certainly -- you know, trying to figure out how Google works and how to navigate the organization, and it can be challenging for somebody who works at Google, much less somebody from the outside.
And that's a large part of my job, is to try and sort of take that publisher perspective and one that I brought, you know, brought to the table when I came to the job, but also just in the ongoing discussions that I have, to try and, you know, make sure that we can, I think, sort of tie across all the different ways that you work with Google and sort of make it a little bit of an easier interaction. It's -- there's just so many different things there, and on the product side of it we really try and be as nimble as possible, and have these -- you know, not have this overarching bureaucracy that sort of slows us down. But on the partnership side of it, sometimes that can present challenges. So, you know, how do we better engage with publishers? How do we present that more of a holistic view of, you know, what can we do together, and just, you know, leave that sort of somewhat of a white space to say what -- you know, what are the things, what are the important things, that we can think about? How can we innovate together? How can we grow this space?
Question: What compromises or innovations have helped pacify Google News critics?
Josh Cohen: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a number of things that we're doing that get into that space about trying to -- I mean, Google News is somewhat unique in this way. I think every Google product, it doesn't work if the users don't like it. If people aren't excited about what you're doing -- and whether it's Gmail or Google Maps or YouTube or Google News -- I mean, if you don't have a product that people want to use, you kind of don't have anything. Google News is a little bit different, though, in that we have -- so much of it is dependent on our relationship with publishers. So we kind of have two audiences in that sense.
So some of the things that we've done, for example, we launched something in September in Google labs called Fast Flip -- as just one example of this -- where we were playing around with what does the news consumption look like. How do you change that? And so it allows you to have these sort of screen shots, and you can just rapidly flip from one page to the next, trying to marry that offline reading experience with some of the benefits of online aggregation and personalization. And we had when we first launched around 20 different titles -- I’m sorry -- 40 or so different titles from about 20 different publishing companies; you know, people like The New York Times and The Washington Post, BusinessWeek and a handful of others. And the response was really positive. I mean, obviously, you know, we had to sort of figure out, is this something that people want to use? And the numbers were really good. But also publishers were excited about it because they saw it as a different model, a different way to try and get their content out there.
And then just last week, we just -- we announced that we doubled the number of publishers who are participating in this. It's still in labs, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what we're going to do with this, but we were really excited not only by the reaction that we got from users, but also from publishers, because they -- I think they see that we're continuing to innovate in this space, and now we're trying to figure out what can we do together; how can we experiment? I think one of the most exciting things with the conversations I had with publishers is, almost all of them these days tend to end with some variation of the statement, hey, when you're doing something new, we want to be your guinea pig. And for Google, that's great, because that's just how we tend to operate. So as more and more publishers kind of raise their hand and say, we want to figure this out too; we don't know what the right answer is, but we want to try something different, and we figure that there are ways that we can work together to try and do that -- that's -- I mean, I think that's really -- that's probably one of the more exciting things for me.
Question: Will Google try to sustain dying newspapers and the quality content they provide?
Josh Cohen: Well, I think one important clarification is, I think that we are less concerned about what the medium is. I think what we care about is making sure that news continues to survive, that enterprise journalism, that investigative pieces, that these types of things that traditionally have come through newspapers, that that type of content continues to survive. But whether or not it's in the newspaper form, or whether it's in a, you know, a Kindle, or whether it's online, I think we're pretty much agnostic about how that's done, as long as that content continues to survive. And so that's our real interest, is to try and make sure that news online not only survives, but thrives as well. So it's not necessarily about the newspaper per se.
Now, with that said, I mean, I think we're looking at all these different areas. We continue to figure out how we can -- to drive that traffic at. We've also looked at different ways of engagement, Fast Flip being one example of that. Another thing that we launched a couple of weeks ago with The New York Times and The Washington Post is another experiment called The Living Story Page, which is really trying to create a new format for news. So much of what you see online today is a reflection of what was in the newspaper, just -- you know, you've taken that article that was in the paper the day before and just stuck it online, not really taking advantage of the ways in which you can tell stories online. So this was an attempt to really just begin to experiment around a different sort of format and a different way of telling stories online -- tools like that and experiments like that to try and move the reader experience forward.
And then obviously the business model too. I mean, you certainly -- you can't ignore that, and so Google has an ongoing initiative of just -- it's core to our business -- about trying to improve online advertising and make it more efficient, make it more smarter, more targeted. But also we are looking at different models. We've had discussions with publishers around subscription content, things that we've already publicly announced with regards to Google Books and the ability to purchase digital copies of books from publishers through Google. I mean, is there a possibility to extend that into news, for example? And how could you leverage Google's technology to do it that way? So I think we are -- we have a lot in the mix right now, and I think we're trying to think about how we can move it forward in some of those different areas.
Question: Which media executives and companies currently embody successful innovation?
Josh Cohen: I mean, I think there are a number of different examples in different places. It's -- I think it's hard to make sort of this -- and I don't want to make any sort of sort of grand statement to say, oh, this executive gets it across the board. I think there are -- you can point to what The New York Times has done with their APIs in sort of making that information widely available. The Guardian has done some similar things in the U.K. Let's take in the U.K.: you can look at The Telegraph, which has done -- they've really begun to sort of figure out what are the core functions that we need to do and we need to own in-house, and what are the ones that we can outsource, whether it's sort of technology, or even forms of sort of the content and the printing of the papers.
You can look at the Journal and what they've -- you know, some of the experiments that they've done around paid content and trying to sort of find out how these both paid content and free content can coexist on the Web, how to sort of have their cake and eat it too with traffic coming in, but also having a subscriber base. I mean, I think there's -- you know, the FT, sticking with the pad content side of things, when they sort of did this metered model for content. I think there's been a number of different innovations, and I think it ranges across the board.
L.A. Times; another great example of using technology that's not their own to tell stories better online; in this case, the way that they use Google Maps. I mean, I kind of always point them out as a perfect-use case of this, where the L.A. Times coverage of the wildfires, which unfortunately is basically every year you've got these series of wildfires -- and they just, they take Google Maps, they take our API, the plug it in, they put their images on there, they put the stories, they annotate the map to show where the damage is, where the evacuation areas are, the latest developments of it -- because it's a very visual story, beyond just the images of the fire itself -- but to see the location of it as well. Just a really good example of how they can use technology that's not their own to tell stories in a different way that's just simply not even possible offline. You take a look at the paper and you can say, well, here's the fire. But it's real-time; it's dynamic. So I think there are a number of different people who are doing interesting things. And those are just the big players; that doesn't even touch on all the sort of small startups that are just doing really, really interesting things, some of which are just weird and strange and ultimately maybe you would say are bad, but are just -- are really encouraging attempts to sort of try and figure out how to use the medium differently.
Question: Have The Guardian and The Telegraph succeeded in part by leveraging traffic from news aggregators?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, I think absolutely. I mean, I think that they have -- they are very aware of the traffic that they get that is now beyond their borders, and that gets back -- and there's the down side to the local monopoly, the local newspaper that had a monopoly on information that all of a sudden that's sort of broken down. But that's the down side from a business model standpoint. But the up side for the business model is, is that I don't -- it doesn't cost me, you know, even a fraction of a penny to reach a user who's, you know, tens of thousands of miles away from me, if I've got this great content. So you see things like The Guardian and The Telegraph -- the BBC, which is, you know, really, I would argue is not just a U.K. source of news; it's really sort of a global source of news now. And in some ways it always has been, but the way that they can reach people online is, I think, is very different. And they begin to think about how can I cover stories differently? Who's my audience? I think the definition of audience is rapidly changing.
The Guardian experimented a little bit with having a bureau in the U.S. and trying to sort of target information specifically for those U.S. users. But it's really trying to get those different perspectives and being able to read them just clicking. I mean, like you don't have to go down to sort of, you know, that one newsstand that has all the different international magazines and newspapers, sort of maybe sort of frequented by expats. All that information is online, and I think that's really changed their ideas of what their audience is and how to reach people.
Question: How will Google augment its offerings in light of Twitter’s success?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, so I mean Google overall is -- you know, just recently rolled out integration of real-time search and taking Twitter and status updates and putting that in as one of the options within the Web. And obviously, I mean, not just Google News, but a number of different Google properties, are all very curious and beginning to think through, well, what does this mean for us? How do we take advantage of that? The way I think about it from the news side of it is, there are two aspects of it. One is just the content itself. I mean, is there value in those tweets? Or is it just sort of a stream of information that by itself just adds more noise to it? I think there's probably some of both. And that's a key part of what we try and do, is not just index the world's information, but also trying to organize it in some level. So applying that to real-time information is very challenging. So I think that's one thing that we're looking at.
The other part of it is just simply as another signal, of a way of sort of picking up those tweets about a certain topic or linking to a certain story. And is there a signal there that's helpful for us in trying to pick up information quicker, or trying to understand people's preferences for certain sources or for certain stories? And so even if you never even surface that information -- the real-time tweets that are there -- how can you leverage those signals to do a better job of presenting what you have on your own site? So I think both of those are areas that we are actively looking at and trying to figure out what's there. But I'm sure we'll put something out there, and maybe the first iteration will not work, but that's, I think, sort of the fun part about trying to see how you can move forward, and that makes things never dull.
Question: What is Google Wave, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, I mean I -- I don't know that in just a few seconds or minutes or probably hours I could explain what Wave is. I think that the idea behind Wave that was really interesting, it was, if e-mail didn't exist, how would you communicate? I think that was sort of the thought that a lot of the engineers started with with Google Wave, and really trying to re-imagine how people can communicate. So it's part e-mail, it's part chat, it's part collaborative documents. So it's kind of all of these rolled together, and it's one of these things you need to play around with it to really even begin to try and articulate what it is.
But that's one of the things, is that we've gotten a lot of interest from journalists saying we think this really fits well with how we do our job, and this is potentially a tool that we would want to take advantage of to tell stories, to create that, to create stories in a different way than how we do it right now, even though it sort of fits with the way we gather facts and information and check sources. Like how do we sort of migrate that to the Web and make it a much more of an open process? I think Wave is still at the early stages to try and figure out how it's going to be used, and journalism is just sort of one of the things that we've seen a few different organizations beginning to play around with. Don't know what's ultimately going to happen with either Wave, the larger discussion, and also specifically around journalism.
Question: What exciting ideas are on the horizon for Google?
Josh Cohen: Well, it certainly -- I mean, the things that I talk about, some of those trends about personalization -- I mean, that's a big one for us. And the social nature of news too. I mean, I think those are things that we've had in bits and pieces, but I don't think we've necessarily gotten it all together. It's tough; I mean, it's really hard when you talk about personalization; even explicit personalization is not easy to do well. And even if you get those signals from users, trying to make sure that you get them right and you interpret them in the right way -- that's not an easy challenge, to say nothing of the whole idea of implicit personalization, of just saying, I come to the Web site; you should know what I'm supposed to -- what I want to read. Needless to say, that's even trickier. So those are some of the things that we're really thinking about, and how do you present them in a meaningful way to our users.
Question: What will your users’ experience look like in 5 years?
Josh Cohen: Yeah, well, there's a balance, because I think you don't want to have the sort of echo chamber, where you're just getting that same news and information from the same sources and people that you've always gotten before. I think you really want to try and have that balance of information that's personalized to you, but sort of at the same time you don't want to lose the serendipity, and also the important news and information that you need to know -- you may not want to read this, but you need to know this. And so those are some of the things that I think are -- you know, can be challenging on the Web, especially the serendipity of it, like I was not searching for this, I didn't know that I wanted to read this, but I'm glad that I found this on my -- you know, on my site.
That's much easier to do right now in a paper. I mean, you sort of pick it up, you see the top stories of the day, but here's an article the editor has decided to place on the front page because they think it's important or they think that it is interesting. How do you introduce that online? So those are some of the things you need to balance with that, you know, really personalized news stream, with other things that just, you know, you may not know that they matter, or rather you may not be thinking them through to sort of say I want to search for it or I want to subscribe to this feed, but how do I get that in front of -- it's important that I get that in front of the user.
Question: What will the media landscape look like in 10 or 15 years?
Josh Cohen: I mean, I think increasingly there is just so much more -- you know, to use a tired term -- sort of metadata on top of the news and information. I mean, I think it can be -- location is certainly a big buzz now with Twitter and various different devices that are aware of your location. I think that's -- that's -- but that's really just sort of one example of ways in which you can filter information to get specifically what you're looking for. And so, increasingly, as you can have that ability to sort of filter by information that's relevant to you or to where you are or to who your friends are, I mean I think that level of personalization is going to be really exciting. You think about how you -- I mean, how I get my news these days -- sure, I go directly to certain publishers, and I also look what's on their home page or all the different coverage. I'll go to Google News, not surprisingly, to sort of see what's there.
But just think about how the information that you get today has sort of changed. I mean, whether it's links that are in Twitter streams that you're following, or Facebook updates, or just e-mails -- I mean, just simple e-mails that people send to you and say, hey, did you see this article? That -- like how that distribution of information has changed and really sort of exploded. So there is no -- I mean, it used to just be the source, and then it was just sort of search, and now it's sort of the social component to it, and I think that's only going to continue to fragment in a good way, because it just -- it offers so many different ways for you to get information that's more and more relevant to you. So how can we -- we, collectively speaking: Google and publishers -- do a better job of trying to offer as many different ways to I guess sort of filter or tweak those results that are specific to what I want?
Question: Will new media remove middlemen in favor of direct communication between individuals and audiences?
Josh Cohen: I mean, I think brands still matter on the Web. I mean, I think it's -- I don't see them disappearing, but I think the role might certainly change. I think that the voice of God that you sort of would see before with editors sort of saying, this is the important news of the day; this is what you should be reading -- I mean, that still has a place, but I think people want so much more than that, and I think they're looking for so many different sort of authoritative voices. And authority can be defined in very different ways, depending on who you're asking. And so there's no longer that single source of information that's dictating this is what matters to you. And it's really much more of a dialog than it ever was before.
Question: How can old media leaders succeed in the new media landscape?
Josh Cohen: I mean, it really is -- it's -- it comes back to experimentation. And I think it's a really hard thing to do, and it's a scary thing to do, because you've got in some cases these -- you know, there's this notion that Jeff Zucker talked about, trading in analog dollars for digital pennies. And I think he recently updated it to say digital dimes. And so it's very scary to sort of make that transition, to say, well, I'm putting this huge enterprise at risk for an uncertain future. But I think that so many of those forces that are taking place are going to take place, you know, whether or not you want them to or not. I mean, the train has left the station in a number of different instances, and so to sort of sit back and say, well, I want to roll back the clock five or 10 years ago, I get why that's -- that would be, you know -- people want to do that -- but I think it's just -- it's hard if not impossible to do, and I think that's not where your users or your readers are going to go. And so it's really important to try and find different ways to try and push the envelope and test those things which -- again, I acknowledge, you know, 100 percent that that's -- that's tricky and that's scary to do, but I think it's -- if you don't, you're sort of -- you've got bigger challenges down the road.
Question: What is your advice to young reporters just starting out in this media landscape?
Josh Cohen: Yeah. I mean, well, I think the path, you know, 20 years ago is sort of the same. You start off at maybe a small regional paper, and you sort of work your way up, and then you get to the Times or the Journal. And I think in -- you know, we were talking a little bit about how users and -- or rather readers -- and their experience with information is now much more active. Before it was very sort of passive; they'd sort of sit back, and the information would be presented to them. And now it's much more of a dialog. And I think there's a bit of an analogy as well with the journalist today, in that it's not just this sort of passive thing where I write my content and I put it out there -- or somebody puts that content out there and is responsible for the distribution of my content, and I just sort of sit back and I continue to write that content, to write those stories. I think it's much more of an active role to own your, you know, your brand and your experience and your information, and how that gets out there, and understand the technology at your disposal so that you can get that out there; understanding how you can tell stories in better ways.
I think a lot of the -- you know, we've -- a couple times we've sort of gone over to CUNY with their new journalism school, and I think that's an interesting idea. It's a new school, so I think that the way that they're thinking about it and really -- I think one of the phrases they use is sort of entrepreneurial journalism -- and I think that's true. Whether you've been in the business for a number of different years, or whether you're just starting off, it's this, you know, thinking about the content and the distribution of it, and the monetization of it. I mean, all these things kind of matter so much more that simply just putting a piece of information out there is probably not going to be enough. And so to really try and immerse yourselves in all those different ways, whether it's, you know, I think there's always been the church and state, and I think there's that separation is obviously there for a lot of good reasons about not -- making sure that the information that you're writing isn't influenced by an advertiser. But I think sometimes it can be used as a way to just sort of put on the blinders and say, well, I'm never going to think about the business side of it. You obviously need to keep your content separate from that, but that doesn’t mean you can't think about the long-term viability of what you're trying to do.
A conversation with the senior business product manager of Google News.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.
- Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
- The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
- Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
Immortality and identity<p>The paper defines life as a "continued stream of subjective experiences" and death as the permanent end of that stream. Immortality, to them, is a "life stream without end," and resurrection is the "continuation of that same stream of experiences after an arbitrarily long gap."</p><p>Another key clarification is the identity problem: How would you know that a downloaded copy of yourself really was going to be <em>you? </em>Couldn't it just be a convincing yet incomplete and fundamentally distinct representation of your brain?</p><p>If you believe that your copy is not <em>you</em>, that implies you believe there's something more to your identity than the (currently) quantifiable information contained within your brain and body, according to the researchers. In other words, your "informational identity" does not constitute your true identity.</p><p>In this scenario, there must exist what the researchers call a "non-informational identity carrier" (NIIC). This could be something like a "soul." It could be "qualia," which are the unmeasurable "subjective experiences which could be unique to every person." Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.</p><p>It's no matter: The researchers say resurrection, in some form, should be possible in either scenario.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If no 'soul' exist[s], resurrection is possible via information preservation; if soul[s] exist, resurrection is possible via returning of the "soul" into the new body. But some forms of NIIC are also very fragile and mortal, like continuity," the researchers noted.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The problem of the nature of human identity could be solved by future superintelligent AI, but for now it cannot be definitively solved. This means that we should try to preserve as much identity as possible and not refuse any approaches to life extension and resurrection even if they contradict our intuitions about identity, as our notions of identity could change later."</p>
Potential resurrection methods<p>Turchin and Chernyakov outline seven broad categories of potential resurrection methods, ranked from the most plausible to most speculative.<br></p><p>The first category includes methods practiced while the person is alive, like cryonics, plastination, and preserving brain tissue through processes like chemical fixation. The researchers noted that there have been "suggestions that the claustrum, hypothalamus, or even a single neuron is the neural correlate of consciousness," so it may be possible to preserve just that part of a person, and later implant it into another organism.</p><p>Other methods get far stranger. For example, one method includes super-intelligent AI that uses a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere#:~:text=A%20Dyson%20sphere%20is%20a,percentage%20of%20its%20power%20output." target="_blank">Dyson sphere</a> to harness the power of the sun to "power enormous calculation engines" that would "reconstruct" people who collected a sufficient amount of data on their identities.</p>
Turchin<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The main idea of a resurrection-simulation is that if one takes the DNA of a past person and subjects it to the same developmental condition, as well as correcting the development based on some known outcomes, it is possible to create a model of a past person which is very close to the original," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"DNA samples of most people who lived in past 1 to 2 centuries could be extracted via global archeology. After the moment of death, the simulated person is moved into some form of the afterlife, perhaps similar to his religious expectations, where he meets his relatives."</p><p>Delving further into sci-fi territory, another resurrection method would use time-travel technology.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there will at some point be technology that allows travel to the past, then our future descendants will be able to directly save people dying in the past by collecting their brains at the moment of death and replacing them with replicas," the paper states.</p><p>How? Sending tiny robots back in time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A nanorobot could be sent several billion years before now, where it could secretly replicate and sow nanotech within all living being[s] without affecting the course of history. At the moment of death, such nanorobots could be activated to collect data about the brain and preserve it somewhere until its future resurrection; thus, there would be no need for forward time travel."</p>
Pixabay<p>The paper <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36998733/Classification_of_the_approaches_to_the_technological_resurrection" target="_blank">goes on to outline some more resurrection methods</a>, including ones that involve parallel worlds, aliens, and clones, along with a good, old-fashioned possibility: God exists and one day he resurrects us. </p><p>In short, it's all extremely speculative.</p><p>But the aim of the paper was to catalogue known potential ways humans might be able to cheat death. For Turchin, that's not some far-off project: In addition to studying global risks and transhumanism, the Russian researcher heads the <a href="http://immortality-roadmap.com/" target="_blank">Immortality Roadmap</a>, which, similar to the 2018 paper, outlines various ways in which we might someday achieve immortality.</p><p>Although it may take centuries before humans come close to "digital immortality," Turchin believes that life-extension technology could allow some modern people to survive long enough to see it happen. </p><p>Want a shot at being among them? Beyond the obvious, like staying healthy, the Immortality Roadmap suggests you start collecting extensive data on yourself: diaries, video recordings, DNA information, EEGs, complex creative objects — all of which could someday be used to digitally "reconstruct" your identity.</p>But odds are you're not interested. Although Turchin and other scientists are bent on finding ways to avoid death and extend life indefinitely, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/16/dying-still-taboo-subject-poll" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surveys</a> <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/03/02/would-you-opt-for-immortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repeatedly</a> <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutesvanity-fair-poll-the-afterlife/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> that most people would not opt to live forever if given the choice.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>