Fast flip forward – Google adds heft to news preview service

Google has added more than 50 newspapers, magazines, Web sites and TV stations to Fast Flip, the service that allows users to preview or ‘flip’ through news stories.

Google Fast Flip was introduced in September and can currently be found on the Google Labs beta site.

Articles from several newspapers have been added to the service – including The Telegraph, The Independent and The Express (in the U.K.), and the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune. The Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, the Huffington Post, Popular Science, Reuters, Public Radio International, POLITICO and US News & World Report.

Fast Flip now indexes around 90 publications and aims, according to Google, to “make reading articles online as fast and simple as flipping through a magazine or newspaper”.

Announcing the additions via a Google blog post, software engineer Jack Hebert said: “If you make it easier to read news online, people will read more of it. Users have told us they like being able to browse content so quickly, and we’ve been pleased with the amount of time they have spent reading articles in Fast Flip.”

He said publishers are positive about the experiment, too. “Our goal is to work with the industry to help it continue to innovate and build bigger audiences, better engage those audiences and generate more revenue,” he said.

Given that it is still on the Google Labs Web site (which features early stage Google product prototypes) Fast Flip could change significantly, become temporarily unavailable or even disappear without notice.

However, the adding of so many new publications is a sign that Google sees value in the service.

Fast Flip lets readers glance at pages and browse through them quickly without having to wait for multiple page elements to load, which can significantly slow the rendering of articles, especially if they have multimedia content, according to Google.

The idea is to try to replicate online the ease with which people flip through the pages of print magazines and newspapers in the offline world. This could motivate people to read more online, which Google argues will help publishers attract more readers and increase their revenue.

However, when users click on a Fast Flip link, they will be taken to the corresponding publisher’s Web site, where the Google technology will not be on hand to display the page more quickly.

Moving forward, Fast Flip will also feature a search engine and let users share content. Based on their reading choices, users will see suggestions for other articles they might find interesting.

Richard Gingras, CEO of the Salon Media Group, expects Fast Flip to shed light on how user behavior might change if people can browse through online material more quickly.

“On the Web you can go page to page, but it takes five to 10 seconds between pages, so it’s not as ‘browseable’ an experience as with print, where you flip through and scan a lot of things very quickly,” he said.

“This is one experiment, and it’ll be interesting to see what we learn,” he added.

Gingras believes that Fast Flip will not only lead people to read more online, but also add a higher degree of serendipity to their experience through the unexpected discovery of interesting articles they didn’t initially set out to find.

This element of serendipity is one that Google has been interested in adding to Google News, according to Gingras, who before becoming Salon CEO was an independent adviser to Google about news and media from late 2007 until late 2008.

Salon also has its own initiatives to make it easier for its readers to find more of its articles. The publication will soon start to beta test a web site redesign focused partly on organizing content by topics, so readers can scan articles about the same subject.

“Any publisher these days has to be looking at how to create interesting units of content and facilitate the use and access of that content in as many ways as the audience is willing to consume them,” Gingras said.

At this point, Google isn’t making any tools available for external developers to integrate Fast Flip with their Web sites and applications.

In addition to working on regular PC browsers, the Fast Flip website adapts itself when reached from Apple iPhone and Google Android-based mobile devices, letting users flip pages via a touchscreen interface.

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