Today on Google News' Top Stories front page you could find plenty of coverage of the ruling allowing the "jailbreaking" of iPhones as well as some discussion of the soon to be released update of the Android operating system and continued skepticism about Microsoft's upcoming Phone 7. Just above most of these headlines was a link to Google News' Mobile Technology "section," a new feature and a slight alteration to the way Google News' algorithms organize its thousands of headline links into something useful.
Clicking over to the front of the Mobile Technology section , however, brought to light the shortcomings of Google's insistence on the ability of lines of code to do a better job at curating news than actual human beings.
In the lead spot of the section were a handful of colorful headlines including: "Cheap mobile phone deal, Go crazy" and an invitation to click through and see the 179 similar "news" stories. Only a fool refuses such an invitation, and following the link did indeed transport me to one of the best spammy, not-written-by-a-native-English-speaker press release parties ever, featuring such headline gems as "Cheap iPhone deals,celestial feeling." or the strangely suggestive "Blackberry 8520 Curve deals-Easy to fill your pocket."
Perhaps Google's algorithms include code that assign a higher relevance score to anything with a "celestial feeling?" Or maybe it's the fact that the source of the poorly written releases (If yu make any cheap iPhone deal you are surely embracing the most profitable deal. Apple iPhone deals also lead you to free gifts.), FPRD (for Free Press Release Distribution) has managed to game Google News through the sheer volume of releases it sends out. Still, we can't blame it all on the code. After all, while Google doesn't have an army of editors picking and placing news stories on its front pages like Yahoo or AOL, it does have human beings who vet and approve news sources before putting them into the rotation and slap them with a category like "press release," "blog," or "satire".
So at some point, someone in Mountain View pointed a browser at FPRD, saw headlines on the front page like Samsung Tocco Lite Waiting to Fill Joy in Your Life and thought it to be content worthy and relevant to users somewhere, maybe.
In Google's defense, perhaps we should give them a while to work out the kinks in the new sections feature, and within twenty minutes, the spam headlines had completely disappeared from the Mobile Technology page.
But now comes the real test - seeing how Google interprets the headline on this story. Do they have an algorithm for irony yet?