Google Fast Flip: Reading Online a Bit More Like Print

Print has its advantages. In addition to its portability, a magazine or newspaper is easy to flip through to find what you’re looking for, or run across articles or ads you didn’t know you’d want to read. Whatever other advantages the Web has, and notwithstanding Dave Winer’s “river of news” concept, this kind of quick scanning is still tough on a screen, no matter how fast your Internet connection is.

Google is taking a shot at solving this with an experiment out of its Google Labs operation called Fast Flip. A quick description from Krishna Bharat, distinguished researcher on Google News:

Fast Flip is a new reading experience that combines the best elements of print and online articles. Like a print magazine, Fast Flip lets you browse sequentially through bundles of recent news, headlines and popular topics, as well as feeds from individual top publishers. As the name suggests, flipping through content is very fast, so you can quickly look through a lot of pages until you find something interesting. At the same time, we provide aggregation and search over many top newspapers and magazines, and the ability to share content with your friends and community. Fast Flip also personalizes the experience for you, by taking cues from selections you make to show you more content from sources, topics and journalists that you seem to like. In short, you get fast browsing, natural magazine-style navigation, recommendations from friends and other members of the community and a selection of content that is serendipitous and personalized.

Google has about three dozen publisher partners, including (full disclosure) BusinessWeek, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Atlantic, and ProPublica, with which it will share ad revenue on pages viewed. There is also a mobile version with tactile page-flipping for the iPhone and Android phones.

As Bharat noted in his blog post, “the publishing industry faces many challenges today, and there is no magic bullet.” (So I’ve noticed.) And since Fast Flip won’t be just for individual publications, there’s no guarantee readers will simply read a newspaper or magazine through, since Google is providing aggregation of many publications with Fast Flip. So even though this is the first time Google is essentially paying publishers for providing news content, I’m doubtful this will go very far in persuading traditional media. Some of them have complained that Google makes money from indexing content it didn’t create, that the search giant is really their friend.

But the sooner publishers can make their content online easier to peruse, not just search, the better off they’ll be.

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