Google (NSDQ: GOOG) on Monday plans to unveil an experimental news reading service called Google Fast Flip, which the company hopes will serve as a financial lifeline for the revenue-starved publishing industry.
Google Fast Flip, a Google Labs project, builds on a core Google value: speed. It aims to accelerate the news browsing process by caching Web pages and presenting them more quickly through a more user-friendly interface. Just as Apple's CoverFlow interface aims to provide Mac, iPod, and iPhone users with a more intuitive music browsing interface, Fast Flip aims allow more efficient news consumption. "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," explains Google News researcher Krishna Bharat in a blog post. "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."
Google's prosperity, at a time when the newspaper industry has been shutting papers and laying people off, has put the company in the awkward position of having to reassure suffering publishers that it's a friend rather than a foe.
In a Congressional hearing in May about financial troubles facing the newspaper industry, Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, said that Google has been doing its part to support news publishers by driving traffic and revenue to online news sites. She also said that innovation and experimentation would be needed to adapt to changing patterns of news consumption.
To address publisher worries about life with less revenue, Fast Flip's answer is more news. "The publishing industry faces many challenges today, and there is no magic bullet," said Bharat. "However, we believe that encouraging readers to read more news is a necessary part of the solution."
Google is also doing its part by trying to develop a micropayment system in the hope that a fee-supported model for news can flourish alongside the dominant ad-supported model.
Some three dozen publishers have been working with Google to provide content for the Fast Flip debut, including The Atlantic, Fast Company, The New York Times, Newsweek, ProPublica, Salon, and The Washington Post.
Richard Gingras, CEO the Salon Media Group, says that the interesting thing about Fast Flip is the exploration of a different user experience, one that's designed to make it easier for people to browse and find content online. "Going from page to page on the Web is a sluggish experience compared to flipping the pages of a magazine," he said. "Will serendipity become more of a factor if I can flip through more articles more quickly?"
Salon, he said, isn't developing any new ad formats specifically for Fast Flip. "The first objective is to create a powerful and satisfactory user-experience and then figure out how attendant business models can be developed along the way," he said.
Richard Tofel, general manager of ProPublica, a non-profit reporting organization focused on in-depth investigative journalism, said ProPublica's interest in Fast Flip, has more to do with finding ways to help readers engage with long-form journalism than with revenue considerations.
"Display is a really a non-trivial question," he said. "We know we produce great content and readers tell us we do. But displaying it in ways that more people will find more accessible is obviously of significant interest."
Along those lines, Google also plans to release a mobile version of Fast Flip for Android devices and for Apple's iPhone.
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