If you know Google News only from what it looked like a year or two ago, you're thinking of a page crammed full of blue headline links. These days, Google News can do a lot more to keep you on top of the news around you and around the world.
Google's Web services, like the Google Apps platform, change all the time. And unless you follow the many, many official Google blogs, you can easily miss a thing or two (or five) that could really help you out. Here are a few ways to get the most mileage out of Google News.
Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Google in the Enterprise blog.
1: Make news editors give you their best stuff
Google has long sought to strike a balance between its stock-in-trade algorithmic search efficiency and the desires of publishing entities to tell a story and capture a searchers' attention. The new Editors' Picks is a prime example. Tucked in the right-hand sidebar of Google News, these are just what they sound like: interesting, relevant, and otherwise push-able stories that publishers are picking out themselves.
You can currently flip between a handful of publishers, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Market Watch, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. Just move a slider at the bottom of each publication to determine how often it shows up in your feed. That's a good introduction to your next step.
2: Cut back or bulk up on particular topics and categories
Hit the Personalize button in the upper-right corner. A new set of sliders and controls jumps underneath the button you just hit. The first contains general sliders for broad topics: U.S. news, world news, business, health, and the like. If you use Google News for specific purposes, or would like to, go ahead and cut back on the stuff you don't need.
But let's say you're tracking stories on a certain topic, like Standard & Poor's recent downgrade of the U.S. debt rating. In the box at the bottom of Personalize Google News, start to type in the topic, and Google should provide auto-complete options. Choose the most fitting and then move the slider to the right to see that topic Frequently/Always. You can also use this setting to keep certain topics showing up only Rarely. On the left-hand sidebar, where news topics are listed, clicking your custom topic will display an entire page of news on the specified subject.
3: Ban or promote individual news sources
Chances are you feel one way or another about Fox News, the New Yorker, and TechCrunch. Want to see more of them — or absolutely none of them? Google News provides general sliders in Adjust Sources for popular sources, along with the same kind of individual type-and-find sources. If you have local sources you'd like to come across more often, type them into the box and you'll probably find them. News is sporting more than 50,000 sources at this point. Click Add, then move the slider somewhere along the line from Never to Often.
4: Let Google News find headlines near wherever you are
Google News can provide headlines for the area you're physically sitting in, but if you type in only your town to personalize it, you're missing out on a wider range of news awareness. The second box on the right-hand sidebar shows your local news stories. Click the Edit link to the right of the area name and then select the Automatically Determine My Geographic Area check box. Now News will provide a wider range of headlines based on its sourcing. And when you open a browser in another town, you'll see the news there, too, without having to open your hotel door.
5: Tweak how blog-y and PR-ish your news can get
By default, Google News allows straight press releases and independent blog posts into your newsfeeds if they match your topics and interest areas, and more often if there's a dearth of other material. If you feel like you're getting a bit too much official filtering, or unofficial punditry, just change that mix in your settings. Yes, even Google News has settings, accessible from the gear icon in the upper-right corner (when you're logged into a Google account).
Move the radio buttons for press releases and blogs between None and More to tweak how often those sources show up. While you're here, consider changing up the Google News look with a one-column/two-column choice and feel free to deselect the Show Google News Badges option if you're really not all that into bragging to online friends about how much news you consume in a browser.
Bonus tip: Turn off automatic personalization and become the ultimate editor
Did you know that Google News automatically adds some sections to your News front page, based on how often you've clicked on certain articles in the past? No? Well, Google announced it, and it supposedly tests well with users and publishers. But if you want control over what you see in your News page, you can scroll to the bottom of your News page and click Standard U.S. Edition, rather than the default Personalized U.S. Edition. Then again, you might find after a few weeks of browsing inside your own parameters that getting exactly what you wished for in Google News is sort of a mixed blessing.
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Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.