Google Fast Flip: Useful or Useless?

Google Fast FlipGoogle Fast Flip, the latest offering from Google Labs. It’s received massive media coverage, but that’s probably not surprising given that media companies have the most to gain.

Fast Flip is Google’s attempt to present recent news, headlines, and popular articles like a printed magazine stand. You can browse screenshot thumbnails of stories from your favorite publishers, authors or topics. The system currently features pages from several dozen (mostly) US-based news corporations but more will be added over time.

Google hopes to improve its relationship with newspaper and magazine companies. Many have attacked Google for aggregating content it did not create, but the majority of Fast Flip’s advertising revenue will be passed back to the publishers. According to Marissa Mayer, Google Search vice-president:

I don’t believe we are part of the problem. I believe we are part of the solution.

We have tried to build platforms and tools that build a healthy, rich eco-system online that is supportive of content. This is a new way of looking at content.

Google believes that Fast Flip solves issues associated slow browsing; it allows users to seamlessly flick through articles without unnatural delays. Is that really a problem and has Google cracked it?

The opening screen shows four configurable article sections with multiple tabs representing topics or sources. Each section contains a horizontally-scrolling area with article screenshot thumbnails. I’m not convinced the thumbnails are effective; they’re too small to be readable and few news stories contain helpful or relevant photographs. The headline text is shown below but it’s easy to miss it (the text is grabbed from the page’s <h1> tag; it works most of the time, but some publishers are better than others):

Google Fast Flip main screen

Clicking the thumbnail takes you to a larger and more readable screenshot. I initially found this a little bizarre — I’d expected to be taken to the actual article. However, it does allow you to read more of the story, quickly scroll to other articles, or use the pull-out navigator widget. It also provides Google with space to show advertising:

Google Fast Flip enlarged view

Finally, you can browse a series of stories from your chosen publisher or topic:

Google Fast Flip topic view

The interface is usable, although it works best on screens with a high vertical resolution. It looks cramped on a browser running on a 1024 x 768 screen. I suspect Google will address that issue, especially when they start supplying Chrome OS on netbooks.

Fast Flip works in most browsers, including IE6 and several mobile devices (they’ve not published an official browser support list). JavaScript is required but it would be relatively easy to create a HTML/CSS-only version — perhaps Google will do that if the system becomes popular?

But is there a need for Fast Flip? Will anyone use it? For years, techies have been aggregating their own topics using RSS; many feed readers and personal home pages offer a quicker and easier browsing experience. However, I accept that RSS has never been widely adopted outside the technical community. Could Fast Flip be a viable alternative to those users?

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  • David

    Great review, one of the few that actually includes a decent selection of product screen shots. As you pointed out do you think that it places too much work on the content providers around making sure H1 tags are correct and always used?

    Around the issue of the screen resolution, I can see how it might be suitable for the next generation of larger touch screen devices but I would assume on a screen as small as an iPod it would be difficult to read?

    Publishing Flips Out

  • ray

    Straight up I’d say, to me, it is useless – but then that’s just to me :(

  • http://www.deanclatworthy.com Dean C

    Absolutely useless as far as I’m concerned. I’m tech-savvy and work in this industry and if I struggle to understand and use the UI, normal users will struggle even more.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @David

    do you think that it places too much work on the content providers around making sure H1 tags are correct

    Not really — content providers should be doing it anyway. Most do, but I did spot the odd strange title.

    I would assume on a screen as small as an iPod it would be difficult to read?

    The small screenshots are impossible to read on any screen! But, to me, the interface design seemed better suited to a portrait than landscape orientation. iPods could be better in that respect … I’m willing to test it if Google or Apple want to send me one!

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    When I’m searching for news items this might actually be quite handy, although probably more so when they start adding Australian-based publications to it too.

  • Kevin Dugan

    I think the other key here is that Google usually launches projects like this before they’re done. So in addition to interface enhancements, I assume we’ll see more publishers. If we get both, I think Google Fast Flip stands a chance.

    Thanks!

    Kevin Dugan, @prblog
    empowermm.posterous.com

  • randywehrs

    I vote that this one is useless. My big problem is that if you want to click a link that’s on a page you see (if you can read it at all), you have to click 3 times just to get to it. A valuable lesson that I learned in college is that you never make the user click 3 or more times to get the information they want to access.

    This is besides the fact that you can’t read anything, and when you compare this news source from the standard Google News site, its severely lacking in content. I’ll be sticking with ol’ faithful.

  • mathieuf

    Not a tool I will use. I already scan news consolidators like BBC and Economist. Why would I scan a consolidator of consolidators?

  • http://www.patricksamphire.com/ PatrickSamphire

    Tried it, didn’t care for it, won’t use it.

    This seems more like a google PR exercise to keep publishers happy than an attempt to produce anything useful for users.

  • web development company

    i think its useless.

  • David

    They are pretty slow in coming out with something like this, they need more features like the solutions from Zmags.com or Issuu.com if they want to enter the page flip market.

  • Daily-Portal.com

    Nice new service from Google! That PNG’s load pretty FAST!

    Thank you for the review, I did not know this new service.

    Daily-Portal.com

  • Phill

    I think this a pretty cool little idea, would be better with a nicer skin. Very easy to use and a cool way to have a quick flick through the news. Would be nice as a built in OS widget or Iphone / Andriod app

  • http://Newzwars.com Newz

    Seems useless now.