Listen, I have a love-hate relationship with Google News, and until now, I’ve bit my tongue. It does provide a simple and easy-to-use experience for aggregating current events and by all accounts, it’s doing just ‘fine’ at that. However, as with other Google services like Gmail, I feel that all they ever truly do is ‘just fine’ – never excelling or reaching their full potential. I’ve only dealt with News because it’s from the tech giant, but I’ve never really found it all that user-friendly. The ‘For you’ aspect never really played out, in my opinion. Over the years, it’s become less of a go-to solution for me and in its place, I’ve gone to tools like Feedly instead.
Today, I wanted to look at five things Google News can do to make me hate it just a bit less going forward. Sure, it’s finally added Dark Mode back in after stripping it away a few years back, and its barebones approach keeps things flowing – hell, it’s even one of the first Google apps to become a PWA on the Play Store, but are we looking for an app that does the bare minimum? I’m not.
The biggest problem with Google News
First off, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. You’ve probably even though this yourself and brushed it off to the side, but I’m going to call out the largest complaint I’ve ever had with the service. Google News is backward and upside down in its approach to content curation. Instead of letting users add sources to follow and simply recommending others – like, oh, I don’t know, Google Reader used to do – it dumps a million sources unrelated to your location, interests, and more into one pool and forces you to sift through and hide things one by one.
When you’re running a Google account that’s focused on gaming, business, or any other creative endeavor and constantly get headlines for what’s happening in politics, war, local murders, and what celebrities had for breakfast before complaining it wasn’t served on golden spoons, it really throws you out of your zone. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but as with all topics, they have their place. Just because I don’t want to read about them right now doesn’t mean I think them less vital to our society – well, aside from the golden spoons.
Everyone has at least two sides of themselves and curating content specifically around their business and casual personas is vital if they’re going to extrapolate relevant current events to grow and transform as people or entities, or to educate and entertain as content creators. I’ve hidden nearly 200 news sources already from the top ‘Headlines’ section of the app and used the ‘thumbs down’ icon to get fewer stories relevant to these aforementioned topics, yet Google seems hell-bent on shoehorning them into the top of my feed every moment of every day.
There’s currently no way to hide or remove this ‘Headlines’ section, and the only solution is to scroll past the dark and depressing, less-relevant stories to get to the content I’ve chosen to follow. These are usually three to four stories down. I’m going to say this again because it’s abundantly clear to me – Google literally doesn’t care that you don’t want to see something – it’s going to force you to look at it if you want to use the app at all.
I mean, the ‘For you’ section should be filled with things you’ve chosen to follow, but even that includes crap you never chose to subscribe to. Yes, they’re a bit more relevant than the headlines, but why, oh why, Google have you chosen to build News in such an opposite way to Reader? I never thought I’d be on the Google Reader bandwagon since I have an obsession with pretty apps and highly visual information delivery – something Reader always did poorly – but this is ridiculous.
I said I don’t want to see that story!
Okay, now that I’ve complained enough, let’s move on. News does this thing where it shows you a carousel full of articles from varying sources on the same news headline. You can swipe left and right to see them, and they autoplay if you don’t. If you tap the three-dots ‘more’ menu to select the option for hiding or removing that story, the entire carousel doesn’t go with it. Instead, you’re forced to remove each one – one by one. You’d think Google would catch your drift and remove them all at once. Since there’s usually a tweet mixed in there too, you have to swipe past it. You can’t remove it manually – it disappears on its own once you’ve removed the other five stories from the carousel. Talk about inconsistent.
Just tie it into Discover, already
A while back, Google Discover received a ‘Full coverage’ button for some stories. It’s not consistent, but sometimes, the colorful newspaper logo will appear, allowing you to see other sources that have covered that topic so you can form your own opinion. It’s a great tool – one of the only things I feel News has done right over the years, but why does it only show up sometimes in Discover? Moreover, why doesn’t Google just combine Discover and News into the same experience?
Both services provide a near-identical layout, yet they remain separate to date. If Google News is that important to the company, why don’t they integrate it directly into the phone launcher in place of Discover and continue to improve upon it? They could make modifications to cause it to act more like Discover, and readers would have a much more consistent experience across the board. Unfortunately, this is Google we’re talking about, so that’s just not going to happen. News has been around forever, and is a big deal for publishers and readers, so why is it getting the shaft while Google builds out a second tool?
On that note, why doesn’t News include a heart icon to tap and let it know you want more of that specific content? This is a great new addition to Discover, and would make News more personal to you. If it has any hope of letting you be in control of what it’s doing with content, this is one way to do it. Who knows, maybe it would make me have to hide a few hundred fewer sources per week.
I just realized that I have hundreds of articles saved to my ‘Read later’ section in the News app. I’m talking super old content that’s not really relevant anymore. I have a lot of thoughts on this, and it certainly is my fault for saving things and not going back to read them, but let me just say this – Google is now an AI and machine learning-first company, and it’s going through great lengths to automate putting data in front of our faces as of late, so why isn’t there a section in Google News – maybe even in place of those stupid headlines – that says ‘Don’t forget to read these’. I’m sure they could come up with a better title, but that’s the gist of what I’m looking for. Call up saved articles once per week and remind me to read them.
While it’s at it, why has the app not yet tied Read it later articles into the ‘Read later’ section of Chrome or Google Collections? Who’s in charge of intentionally keeping these tools with the same exact name separate at headquarters, and why haven’t they bumped into each other in the elevator yet? It worked out for Square Enix and Disney – that’s why we got Kingdom Hearts. I’m sure Read Later and Read It Later teams could have a similar experience since they work at the same company, and work in the same building, right?
Videos and Podcasts just plain suck in Google News
There was a time when Google News attempted to integrate Podcasts…sort of. If publishers set things up correctly – as we have done – their podcast can appear as a tab on their dedicated page. I was under the impression that I could listen to them directly in the app, but instead, it forces you to visit that web page directly and stay on it. That’s right, you’re stuck there if you want to listen to podcasts in the News app – you can’t go browse other news. I’m pretty sure there was a time when it would collapse the podcast to a player in the app and let you continue to look around, but it was short-lived.
The same goes for Youtube videos. Not only does the video watching experience completely suck in the Google News app – it’s basically a web-based Youtube player (yuck) – it also suffers from the same problem of not being able to play in the background or in a collapsed player while you read other news. I don’t know about you, but I’m a multitasking machine – even if multitasking is a myth and we simply switch rapidly between multiple tasks. Even if it’s bad for your mental health, it’s a reality of our current culture. I want to listen while I read – plain and simple.
I’ve got News for you…it probably won’t get better
There are a few other consolation improvements I’d love to see with the app, specifically the addition of commenting in Shared & Activity, auto-playing videos in the news feed with an option to turn it off, the ability to create news source and topic collections like Feedly offers, and more, but the things I’ve outlined above are my primary gripes. Unfortunately, they’ve been issues for years, and I just don’t see them getting better – ever. Google is a half-baked company. It’s a perpetual beta machine, and it intends to stay that way.
Even more unfortunate, it’s taken a stance on some of its longstanding services like News to stop improving them and stop treating them as beta products altogether – Google News just sucks, and it’s going to stay that way. I know that’s a bleak outlook on things, but their M.O. seems to be ‘If it ain’t broke (to most people) then don’t fix it’. I find all of these things completely annoying and feel that they destroy the experience, no matter how much I keep going back to the app in order to get simple news. Because I keep going back though, it’s going to be enough for Google to sit on its hands and do nothing – you know, what it’s good at. That may sound super harsh, but deep down, you know I’m right. If it truly wants to subvert expectations and bring News into the modern age as a competitive tool for aggregation, it should consider this feedback and make some changes.