Yesterday, Google launchedFast Flip – a Google Labs product that wants to give users a new way to browse newspaper sites and blogs on their desktops and mobile devices. The big business news here is that Google will share ad revenue from this product with the publishers. The relationship between Google and the newspaper industry has always been somewhat tumultuous, so this revenue-sharing model can be seen as Google extending an olive branch to content producers. The problem, though, is that Google Fast Flip simply isn’t a very good product and that it feels more like a step backwards than the future of news.
The overall idea behind Fast Flip is interesting. Over time, the service learns what you like to read and will personalize its news suggestions for you. The execution, however, leaves much to be desired. Instead of a Google Reader-like text-based interface, Fast Flip displays a series of screenshots.
On the desktop, you get a large picture of a page with the first part of an article without the ability to scroll down, and cut off sides where ads or links to other articles tend to be. Often, because a lot of magazines tend to feature very large images at the top of a page, all you get is a headline and an image. To actually read the article, you have to click on the screenshot.
On an iPhone or Android phone, the experience is even more annoying. Besides the problem that Fast Flip isn’t extremely fast on a mobile device (images take longer to load than text, after all), the size of the screen guarantees that you can’t actually read much in those screenshots besides the headline. To get a better view, you have to tap the screen and a menu will pop up that allows you to zoom into the picture or read the full article on the actual newspaper site or blog. As Rob Diana points out on the Regular Geek blog, that’s a lot of clicking just to get from an unreadable thumbnail view to the actual content.
The other problem here is that Google is only working with a select number of content providers. At least for the time being, this is a closed off ecosystem.
Overall, Fast Flip just seems like a disappointing product. The cooperation with content producers is interesting, though we wonder if a single AdSense unit on the site will really make newspapers any money. Google Reader or personalized applications like my6sense on the iPhone or feedly on the desktop just seem far more interesting and usable than browsing through a series of screenshots.