Google Blogoscoped

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google Fast Flip Lets You Quickly Browse News Pages

Google’s latest Labs experiment is called Fast Flip. Opening the site you’ll be presented with snapshot images of articles from lots of different news sites. You can then scroll through these snapshots or click on any snapshot to be taken to a larger, readable image of that article. (To the left side is an expandable navigation bar assembling the smaller snapshots again.) Clicking on that larger image in turn will lead you to the source site and its article. Articles can be “liked” or send via email, and the site is also available in special mobile versions for iPhone or Android.

The idea of Google Fast Flip is that by preloading lots of static images, article browsing is as fast as flipping through a stack of paper. Google says “One problem with reading news online today is that browsing can be really slow. A media-rich page loads dozens of files and can take as much as 10 seconds to load over broadband, which can be frustrating. What we need instead is a way to flip through articles really fast without unnatural delays”. Google’s single animated ad to the right side is loaded dynamically for every page, and rather quickly. On the downside, text of the images can’t be (Ctrl+F) searched, copied and so on, and enlarging the font is suboptimal. Sometimes, headlines are cut off due to Google’s image cropping. Some obvious features, like address auto-completion when mailing an article when you’re logged in, are missing.

The basic article view...

... and the same with expanded sidebar.

Search result pages are showing the snapshot images, too. Your search query is not highlighted in the images.

All in all it’s an interesting experiment, probably not aimed at anyone doing structural research on any particular news topic, but rather to serve as an alternative type of Google News frontpage... to get a quick idea of what happened around the world (or more specifically, of what the – mostly US based, English – newspapers decided to highlight among all the things happening). The service has its share of accessibility problems, but I still found using the left and right arrows on the keyboard to move sideways through these semi-random articles of a specific category a fun way to discover some news items.

Google’s Fast Flip FAQ mentions that Google’s captures the images from “partners’ websites”, while the frontpage topics “are generated automatically by rising stories in the news.” Which sources does Google decide to include? I’m counting 39 sources linked from the FAQ: BBC News, Billboard, Business Week, Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, Christian Science Monitor, CosmoGirl, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Esquire, Fast Company, Foreign Policy, FRONTLINE, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, Men’s Journal, National Review Online, New York Times, Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, ProPublica, Quick & Simple, Redbook, Salon, Seventeen, Slate, Smithsonian, SPIN, TechCrunch, Technology Review, Teen, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The Daily Green, Us Magazine, Veranda, and Washington Post. Google points news publishers to their general news publishers help pages, though there’s no specific entry showing up when doing a search for fast flip. Google tells Times Online that “the majority” of money made from the ads will be given to publishers who signed up with the site. If this type of news reading catches on it turns (already powerful) Google into a proxy – a channel between your browser and the website with the potential for the channel owner to exert additional market control.

[Thanks Jérôme and Dpic!]


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