wedded handsGoogle News is sporting a polished new look and new capabilities under the hood. Larger thumbnail photos are only one part of the equation. It’s the new “See Realtime Coverage” button that’s most indicative of the changes.

Anyone who uses Google News is aware of the frustration you can feel at the seemingly haphazard array of results. Realtime presents you the long sought-after chronological view of a topic’s coverage. Press the button, and you get a screen where all the coverage of that topic appears, with the most recent at the top. (Needless to say, you do need to be quick if you’re looking at something that is trending. The items can scroll by pretty quickly in those circumstances.)

Another visual cue to what I consider to be one of the most important changes is the “Google+ Discussion” column on the left. If you’re logged into Google, your profile icon appears next to a text field that allows you to post the article and your thoughts directly to Google+. In addition, the G+ comments on the piece seem to be displayed beneath that form field.

Google’s News Blog describes it as follows:

Many news stories inspire vibrant discussions on Google+, and today we’re starting to add this content to both the News homepage, and the realtime coverage pages. This way you can see what your circles, journalists covering the story and notables like politicians or others who are the subjects of stories have to say about breaking news, and even contribute to the discussion directly from Google News.

A much tighter integration of news and social has arrived. Those of you who have not seen it yet should catch up with us over the next week as the guys at Google roll it out. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how this tight integration flies with users.

It is easy to envision the creation of virtual “rabbit holes” as social signals gain weight, users descending deeper and deeper in echo chambers of self-reinforcing data rather than being exposed to the entirety of what the Web has to offer. This is where the Realtime aspect becomes important. Since it is based on publication time and date rather than other factors, it guarantees a wide range of data and views. Incidentally, I would have loved to have seen Realtime in action when Forbes managed to prank Google into giving a joke headline status.

Despite the many people who continually write about Google+ being dead or dying (an opinion I personally disagree with), it continues to grow. As I predicted a few months ago, it is slowly integrating with everything else Google has, making its ubiquity more assured each day.

Have you seen it yet? If so, what do you think? Is it an improvement, a distraction, or something else entirely? For myself, I think it’s too bad they can do this and yet I still cannot access my Google pages on the Google iPhone app.

Image by adamjonfuller (Adam Fuller), used under its Creative Commons license.

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