Google Testing Local News In Google Now, As Well As The Limits Of Feature Bloat On The Android Assistant

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Google is testing out local news cards for Google Now according to a new report from Quartz, which cites Google’s VP of Search and Assist as the source of the info. The local news card is in the experimental A/B testing phase, with the aim of gathering feedback from users about whether it should go live to the broad Android user base.

The news would tell you things like nearby crimes, as well as restaurant openings and more, but tailored to your specific interests and bound to geolocation coordinates. It’d be kind of like having your town’s daily newspaper delivered directly to your phone, but perhaps more hyperlocal and having that change depending on where you are at any given moment.

It sounds like a good idea, despite the general failure of local news initiatives like Patch, since it works by collecting news from other sources and is probably a better and more sustainable approach to digital local news than new reporting bodies. But in the larger picture of Now, it begins to beg the question of what Google wants its Android assistant to really be.

Google Now is a service that provides quick access to the information that’s most immediately pertinent to you at any given time. Right now that means popping up flight schedules, transit stops and travel ETAs to key locations like home and work, as well as weather and more. It’s the “more” that becomes potentially troubling; Now is currently pretty easy to pick up and understand, but Google has to think carefully about what new features it brings on, lest it become feature-burdened and unwieldy.

The good news is that Google is doing A/B testing with this and other new features it’s contemplating bringing to Google Now. And it’s also true that not all of the cards need to be activated, or turned on by default. But even just making them available risks overcomplicating the service and making it less intuitive and natural for users, which is a big part of its appeal. Also, local news, while a neat trick, doesn’t seem all that useful in an instantly digestible context like this one.

I have one request for Google around Now: keep it clean. There’s a lot the personal assistant ‘could’ do, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lot it should.