The Times and Google: what changed?

Quite a lot has been written recently about The Times allowing Google to index some of its content. Some of the coverage has suggested this is a capitulation by The Times which had previously taken allowed very little indexing.

I think they’re missing the point. The most interesting part of this story is that The Times “will begin showing articles’ first two sentences to search engines” (according to Paid Content).

This is a big change of stance by Google. Back when I was involved in the ACAP project they resolutely refused to contemplate anything which would allow a site owner to determine what part of an article might be visible in search results (the so-called snippet). Nothing in the robots.txt protocol gave site owners the ability to specify their preferences to this level of detail and, although ACAP did, Google refused to engage with it.

So the story here is not about The Times capitulating, mainly because they clearly have not. The story is that Google have met them in the middle and agreed on a way of indexing which is agreeable to both of them.

This is exactly the sort of thing which ACAP was meant to achieve, and if Google have softened their rigid approach to the way they’re prepared to operate, it is only a good thing.

For The Times it means they can use Google to help, not hinder, their business strategy. For Google it means their users see a large and visible gap in search results being filled.

I think that’s what you call a good outcome.

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