If you know the background (I'll summarize it in a super concise way for the very few still dry), Google has accelerated its projects to disseminate the artificial intelligence it is developing. He did it, whatever experts and wannabes say, for only two reasons: first, counter the rapid rise of OpenAI (and Microsoft) through the launch of Chat GPT and its integration into the Bing search engine. Second, read the first. During its annual I/O presentation event in San Francisco, the search engine giant presented its vision of AI-integrated search to the world. A vision that, it seems, could undermine the digital journalism industry to its roots.
The big shot takes the field
Google's new search interface, powered by AI and called "Search Generative Experience" (SGE), introduces a feature called "AI Snapshots". Basically, it's a huge summary displayed at the top of the search results page. For example, ask, "Why is the glazed donut still so popular?" (take note: never write articles at lunchtime) and before we get to the usual blue links, Google will provide you with an abstract generated from a large language model (LLM, to be precise).
What is at stake for journalism?
If this innovation seems harmless to you, know that often all users are looking for is a simple summary or snippet of information. I'm not saying it, they say it several studies on the field. However, with Google which hosts about 91% of all search traffic, (source: SimilarWeb in April), there is a risk that this giant will become synonymous with the internet. The Internet is a marketplace, and Google could once again become not only the biggest regulator, but the deus ex machina.
What is journalism at risk? Much. If Google starts shredding original work to provide its users with a distilled version, never linking them to the source, how are publishers going to monetize their work? At the moment it is not clear whether Google has any plans to compensate publishers in any way for the content summarized and reworked by its artificial intelligence.
What can publishers do?
To address this issue, publishers may need to adopt more sophisticated SEO strategies, diversify their traffic sources, or work with Google to find a fair solution. The publishing world is not new to similar challenges: in the past, tensions between Google and the publishing industry have led to new policies and practices. I think it is necessary: the second phase of such a destructive process would mean that no one takes up running a news site anymore, apart from a few interested groups, since they will never be able to keep it financially. And at that point Google wouldn't do anything with a model that finds all information... in the absence of information.
Meanwhile, a Google spokesperson said in a recent statement that the company is introducing this new experience as an experiment to "help us iterate and improve, while incorporating feedback from users and other interested parties."
What about publishers' fees?
"We have no plans to share on this, but we will continue to work with the broader ecosystem." If you are capable, interpret this answer for me. For me it is a non-answer. The future of the journalism industry in an increasingly AI-dominated world is uncertain. But one thing is clear: fair and transparent access to information is a fundamental right. If Google is to stay true to its goal of maximizing access to information, it must find a way to balance technological innovation with respect for the work of publishers and the right of readers to access high-quality information.
If not, OpenAI will be the least worst of its problems.