The big picture: Google has been tuning its algorithms to discern stories in text form, and is now trying to use them to create a personalized audio news feed for its users. The company believes that while podcasting is booming, the "audio web" is still stuck in the past, so its latest update to Google Assistant will allow news publishers to reach you with audio content that is based on how different topics are judged as relevant to you and the context you're in.
Google announced an update to its Assistant that makes it somewhat similar to a radio news station when you say the words "Hey Google, play me the news." The feature will work on any Assistant-enabled device such as an Android smartphone, tablet, or smart speaker and will deliver what is essentially an algorithm-based news feed in audio form.
The company says the "Your News Update" will use what Google has learned about your interests, user history and location to greet you with a quick rundown of the big national and international headlines through a series of short clips. Listening to these will then bring in longer stories based on your preferences, with a focus on local news.
Liz Gannes, Product Manager for News Initiatives at Google, says Assistant will act like a "smart news host" between stories and introduce you to what updates are next. The longer-form content should keep you entertained during your commute or while working out, and you can always ask Assistant to skip, revisit, or stop playing a story.
Google says the update was possible with collaboration from publishers around the world such as The Associated Press, Wired, Politico, Axios, PBS, Fox News Radio, The Hollywood Reporter, and Reuters. The company believes licensing audio from multiple quality news sources and delivering them in an algorithmic way will usher in a new era of the "audio web."
There is some technical wizardry behind the scenes in the form of "an open specification for single topic audio stories," which means that Google Assistant will use segmented audio from publishers to deliver specific news bites according to your preferences. Also, the algorithm will try to discern the best ones to serve you based on the context you're in, such as when you're in the kitchen or when travelling.
Google's long-term vision with this is to foster an ecosystem of audio news that is as open and diverse as news in text form. For those of you who want to try the new experience, the Your News Update is currently available in English in the US and is set for an international rollout next year.