Starting today, when you say “Hey Google, play me the news” to a Google Assistant-enabled phone or smart speaker, you’ll get a tailored playlist of the day’s big headlines and stories.
That’s probably what many of us are hoping for when we listen to a news radio station or a daily news podcast during the morning commute. But those come from a single broadcaster, and may require you to hop around to get all the news you’re looking for.
In contrast, the feature that Google is calling Your News Update draws stories from a variety of publisher partners, focusing on the ones that seem relevant to your interests and your location.
“Audio has always been great,” said Audio News Product Manager Liz Gannes (a former tech journalist herself.) “It’s a tremendously evocative medium that conveys an immense amount of information.”
But she suggested that “the distribution technology has been slower [to evolve] than things like text and video,” which is why Google has been experimenting in this area. For example, it’s already added news stories to Google Assistant, as well as responses to news-related questions like “What’s the latest news about Brexit?”
Gannes added that behind the scenes, the company has been developing “an open specification for single topic audio stories.” So rather than dealing with an unwieldy hourlong broadcast or podcast, Google Assistant is working with clips focused on a specific piece of news.
Your News Update usually starts with a few brief, general interest clips — namely, the big headlines of the day. Then it starts playing longer stories that are selected based on what Google knows about you.
For example, when I tried it out this morning, my update began with a 30-second update on the impeachment from Fox News (not one of my regular news sources) and ran through other major stories of the day, then switched to longer (two- to three-minute) entertainment stories from sources like The Hollywood Reporter.
Gannes noted that “there’s a big emphasis on local news in this product — that don’t just mean where you live, but also other locations you care about.” And she said the average update will be around an hour and a half — so it can keep you occupied during a long commute, no dial-fiddling required.
John Ciancutti, Google’s director of engineering for search, added that the recommendations should get smarter over time: “If you want to skip a story … the more you listen, the better sense we get of your tastes and interests.” He also suggested that Your News Update could become more sensitive to context, offering different stories depending on whether (say) you’re in your car or in your kitchen.
“You can imagine in the future, you tune in and we know you’re in your car on Tuesday morning at 7:36, and we can predict based on other listening that you’ve got about a 28-minute commute,” Ciancutti said.
Your News Update is currently available in English in the United States, with plans for international expansion next year.