Google Searches the Past for New Opportunities

The Motley Fool

By Jack Uldrich

Google(NASDAQ:GOOG) announced today that it is offering a new service to allow people to search the archives of newspapers, magazines, and other materials dating back more than 200 years.

Google officials were quick to add that they are "not focusing on monetization yet." The operative word in that statement is "yet."

In spite of the company's highfalutin goal of helping people "be able to explore history as it unfolded," investors need to pay attention to this announcement because it further extends Google's already considerable influence over how the world's information is searched, indexed, and, ultimately, accessed.

Even if the company does not make any money off the deal for a year or so -- and officials are claiming that Google will neither host the content nor charge content owners or consumers for the service -- it does allow the company to reach its already long tentacles into the vast untapped archives of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Lexis-Nexis, and TIME magazine, to name but a few.

From Google's perspective, this is great news, because the more information it can control, the better. Upwards of 400 million people already use the company's search engine every month, and with more deals like this -- along with its recently announced plan to help consumers download and search out-of-copyright books -- that number will only expand.

And as it does, I am confident Google will find ways to "monetize" those opportunities down the road. For instance, by continuing to improve its index of archived information, Google will be in a much stronger position to negotiate future revenue-sharing plans with the content providers. It should also, as the index improves, be able to hone its ability to match searches with specific advertisers and beef up affiliate link programs.

Furthermore, by offering old-world content providers a way to make money from their archives, Google should also be able to extend its growing list of potential allies, which has now grown to include -- as a result of just a few new deals in this past month -- online auction pioneereBay(NASDAQ:EBAY) and, possibly, computing iconApple(NASDAQ:AAPL).

The bottom line is this: Google's latest service, offering people a way to search back in time, also offers Google investors yet another reason why they shouldn't have to search too hard to understand how the company will keep its revenues growing into the future.

Interested in other Google-related Foolishness? Check out these recent articles:

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is an amateur history buff and hopes to be using Google's new service soon. He also owns stock in Google. There's no need to search for the Fool's strictdisclosure policy – you can find it right here.

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Web giant Google is further expanding its online empire with the launch of the Google News Archive Search.

The web-based tool allows users to explore existing digitised newspaper articles spanning the last 200 years and more recent online content.

People using the search are shown results from both free and subscription-based news outlets.

Partners in the project include the websites of US newspaper the New York Times and the Guardian from the UK.

Other sources include news aggregators, websites which collect and display news stories from multiple sources.

"The goal here is to be able to explore history as it unfolded," said Anurag Acharya, an engineer at Google and one of the team behind the project.

"It's fascinating to see how people's attitudes and emotions have changed through time."

History lesson

The new service searches hundreds of different news sources to answer a user's query. The exact number of sources is confidential.

Results are presented in similar fashion to a Google News search, with "related" articles about the same event grouped together. Free and charged-for articles are displayed side by side.

The ability to browse this historical overview allows users to identify key time periods and get some sense of the flow of events
Anurag Acharya

With pages from commercial websites, the cost of viewing them is also shown. Google says search results are based on relevance, not partnerships with companies.

Users can also view articles using a timeline that displays key dates associated with a story.

So the first Moon landing would highlight 1969 as a key date, but also identify other years when lunar landings took place or when the topic was in the news.

"The ability to browse this historical overview allows users to identify key time periods and get some sense of the flow of events," said Mr Acharya.

The earliest known searchable story is, he said, from "somewhere in the mid-1700s" - considerably older than the current 30-day archive offered through Google News.

The service is accessed through the news archive website or the Google news page. It is also activated when it can provide relevant results to a user's search on

In this case, links to the most relevant historical news articles are displayed separately above the normal search results.

Historical challenge

The launch of the news archive search extends Google's influence over how the world's information is indexed, searched and accessed.

According to online research firm Nielsen/NetRatings, more than 380 million people used the search engine every month in 2005.

The company is also expanding into areas other than search. In August it announced plans to offer consumers the chance to download and print classic novels free of charge.

"I'm strongly in favour of the democratisation of access to historical documents, but also cautious about how much information Google now controls," said Professor Roy Rosenzweig, a historian from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US.

He says that increasingly the model of how we access information and what information we have access to is changing, as public archives such as libraries are replaced by private companies. But, he says, he is "extremely excited" about Google's latest offering.

"As a scholar and historian I want as much information as possible, accessible to as many people as possible at the least cost, and the extent to which Google is doing that is compelling."

Google says it plans to launch the news archive search service on other international Google sites soon.

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