Better Attribution of Sources

I’ve blogged before about the importance of linking out in order to establish credibility for your content in line with the expectations of Google’s PageRank algorithm.  Proper citation of sources is an essential aspect of the academic model that PageRank derives from and it lends a great deal of weight to content if it is to be trusted.

One of the biggest challenges of the real-time web is presenting authority.  It’s easy (some might argue too easy) to publish online, and misleading content can often be taken as fact, with significant impact.  Unfounded stories can create panic behaviour and result in un-forecast outcomes.

It’s theoretically possible to leverage one of the major wire services to disseminate false information, and have it appear in a respected second party source like AP or Reuters with very little editorial control.  When these sources are picked up by Google News, readers can be exposed to false content very quickly.

Google would argue that there are already controls in place around syndication through Google News, but given the ease with which speculative articles like this one can appear alongside verifiable sources, there is still some way to go in monitoring the content published.

Last year Google announced their new syndication-source and original-source meta tags which are designed to provide attribution to the source of content being published in Google news.  Although the blog post that announced them is not explicit in stating that these sources will be used in determining the validity of sources being considered for Google News, but there are comments in the post that point to that conclusion:

we’re hopeful that this approach will help determine original authorship, and we encourage you to take advantage of them now

Google have just announced a further link tag for news publishers that is intended to further credit original work.  rel=standout is intended to be used to credit a primary source of a news story in order to add value to the content that is being published.  This time, Google have been explicit in stating the importance of linking out:

Linking out to other sites is well recognized as a best practice on the web, and we believe that citing others’ standout content is important for earning trust as you also promote your own standout work

With more and more people using the web as their sole source of information, authority and verifiability are of increasing importance to readers, and need to be a key focus for publishers.  Automated curation is no replacement for editorial oversight, but the ability to understand primary sources is of huge value to users and publishers alike.