Google Launches ‘Fast Flip’ News-Reading Service

A “solution to the future of journalism”? A “path to peace” with traditional publishers? Or yet more competition for battered news web sites?

fast_flip_logo.gifPredicting how Google’s “Fast Flip” news-reading service will impact the online publishing industry is a matter of speculation at this point. After all, the service was unveiled just today. But at the very least it’s an interesting experiment in how information is presented to Internet users. More to the point, it offers something tangible — money — to publishers who long have complained that the search giant’s Google News service is robbing them of readers and revenue.

From the New York Times:

On Monday, the company introduced an experimental news hub called Fast Flip that allows users to view news articles from dozens of major publishers and flip through them as quickly as they would the pages of a magazine. Google will place ads around the news articles and share resulting revenue with publishers.

Fast Flip, which is based on Google News, tries to address what Google considers a major problem with news sites: they often are slow to load, and so they turn off many readers. Google, the leader in Web search services and advertising, argues that if reading news online was closer to the experience of scanning through physical newspapers or magazines, people would read more. …

The service is being initiated with the cooperation of about three dozen publishers, including major news outlets like BBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Newsweek; magazines like Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, Esquire and Good Housekeeping; and Web-only publications like TechCrunch, and Slate.

Some of the publishers said they viewed the experiment with caution, adding that no single solution could address the industry’s main problem: plunging advertising revenues.

In terms of looks, Fast Flip bears no resemblance to Google News or, for that matter, just about any other news site (see screen grab below). It’s very modular and visual, containing images of what looks like each participating publication in little boxes, side by side. The type is way too small to read on the front of Fast Flip; you have to click on one of the boxes to read any text.

From there you can go from one publication to the next by using your keyboard’s side-arrow keys. In this mode Fast Flip certainly lives up to its name — there’s almost no lag time. But to read an entire article you must go to the original publisher’s web site, which of course is what they (and Google) want you to do.

Google says it intends to put display ads next to the content and share any resulting revenue with publishers. One would think that ads might slow down the load time for the pages; we’ll have to see about that.

The real question, though, is how popular Fast Flip will be with readers. That will determine how successful the experiment is and whether it will lead to substantive changes in the current online revenue model for publishers.

Here’s what a portion of what Fast Flip looks like:
Google Fast Flip screengrab.png