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Google’s AI Advances: What It Means for Media Outlets

Google’s dive into generative AI technology is stoking waves of concern among media moguls. With the tech behemoth’s innovations in artificial intelligence, notably its new “Search Generative Experience” (SGE), the dynamics between online content providers and the search giant are undergoing significant shifts.

The Rise of the Search Generative Experience (SGE)

Earlier this year, as OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot gathered momentum, Google’s position as the dominant information provider came under scrutiny. In response, Google introduced the SGE, a feature leveraging generative AI to produce concise summaries for specific search inquiries. These abstracts now dominate the top of Google’s search page, complete with options to further “dig deeper.”

However, this change hasn’t been entirely welcomed. If publishers wish to restrict Google’s AI from using their content to generate these abstracts, they face the stark choice of also eliminating their presence from Google search results — a decision tantamount to digital oblivion. For instance, a query about “Jon Fosse,” the recent Nobel Laureate in Literature, yields an AI-crafted summary followed by links to esteemed publications like NPR and The New York Times.

Google maintains that these AI-curated summaries are an amalgamation of content from numerous websites and serves merely as a foundation for further exploration. They have labeled SGE a user “opt-in experiment”, continually refining it based on user and publisher feedback.

The Complex Web of Google and Publishers

Yet, for content providers, SGE signifies more than just another tool in Google’s arsenal. It represents another twist in their complex relationship with the Silicon Valley titan. Google’s tentacles extend to many nations, with the SGE feature now accessible in the US, India, and Japan. Its implications weigh heavily on publishers as they grapple with a future possibly ruled by AI.

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Their apprehensions are manifold: traffic to their sites, proper attribution in the AI-driven summaries, and the summaries’ accuracy. But the most pivotal issue revolves around compensation for content used by AI entities like Google. As AI leans on their content, publishers argue they deserve remuneration.

Addressing these concerns, Google has expressed its commitment to direct valuable traffic to various content creators, fostering a vibrant and open web. They’ve also commenced work to comprehend the economics of generative AI applications better, all the while seeking feedback from the content creators.

In a move seen as an olive branch, Google launched “Google-Extended” in late September, granting publishers the choice to shield their content from AI-driven analysis. Danielle Coffey of the News Media Alliance acknowledged this gesture but voiced lingering uncertainties about possible compensation. Nonetheless, the catch remains. While publishers might restrict content from being analyzed for AI, barring it from SGE summaries could also mean their absence from standard Google search.

Adapting to an AI-Driven Digital Landscape

SGE’s design might inadvertently impact organic traffic to publishers. Observers note that the AI-crafted abstracts, by satisfying users’ basic information needs, could reduce potential visits to linked websites. Forrester Research’s Nikhil Lai opines that while the feature might dent organic traffic, publishers’ credibility could remain intact due to their links in SGE.

However, the primary concern for publishers isn’t just reduced visibility; it’s deciphering the new AI-dominated terrain. “The new AI section is a black box for us,” remarked a publisher executive, underscoring the enigma surrounding Google’s AI algorithms.

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Traditionally, Google indexed web content through “crawling”. But with SGE, publishers face a dilemma. They believe Google now employs their content without compensation to generate summaries, potentially reducing the need for users to visit the original content sites.

The new era of AI-assisted search presents both opportunities and challenges. While some entities, like The New York Times and Washington Post, have blocked their content from AI tools, others remain in a quandary.

As the interplay between generative AI and online content unfolds, one thing is certain: the digital landscape is undergoing an evolution, and stakeholders must adapt swiftly to safeguard their interests.

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