Google is testing a service that will let newshounds read Web pages of magazines and newspapers like they were flipping through an old-fashioned paper copy.
Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, plans to demonstrate Google Fast Flip later on Monday at TechCrunch50. It's a Google Labs project that expands the presence of publishers on Google News, organizing and displaying authorized screen grabs of news stories--not snippets--within the Google News site.
For example, readers will be able to scroll through a series of screen grabs bearing the publisher's logo that display stories on the weekend's NFL games or Kanye West's opinions on best female video of the year, also allowing them to browse by categories organized around Google News sections, the most popular stories, or news sources. They'll be able to read some of the story within a section of the Fast Flip site but will need to click through to the publisher's Web site in order to read the full story.
Fast Flip is being tested in partnership with 36 publishers, including The New York Times, Newsweek, and Salon.com, which will get a portion of the revenue from ads that Google plans to sell alongside Fast Flip pages.
Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at the Times, called Fast Flip "a modest R&D project" designed as an experiment to gauge click-through rates and traffic, rather than any sort of money-making venture. He declined to comment on how much revenue Google would be sharing with the paper.
Google News, of course, has been a lightning rod for criticism from the struggling newspaper industry. Some publishers believe that Google News siphons their content and discourages readers from clicking through to the source of the story by including the headline and a snippet of the story. Others grouse about the way bloggers who are merely writing and commenting on a piece of original reporting can sometimes get more exposure on Google News than the author or publisher of the original story.
Fast Flip gives publishers more of what they want: a chance to share in the ad revenue generated by Google News combined with the spotlight and traffic that comes along with inclusion in Google News. Mayer hinted that something like this was coming in May, when she testified before Congress that "the structure of the Web has caused the atomic unit of consumption for news to migrate from the full newspaper to the individual article."
But Fast Flip requires publishers to showcase more of their content than a simple Google News listing requires, which could allow readers to completely skip clicking through after getting the gist of the story from the first few paragraphs. On the other hand, a more attractive presentation of the story could attract more clicks than a single headline might.
Since it's a partner-only service for the moment, criticism of Fast Flip will probably be muted. Nisenholtz acknowledged that the Times is trying lots of things these days to gauge what works in Web publishing. "We're in the business of learning around here in part, and we felt that this was an interesting test."
This isn't Google's only attempt to work with an industry that has been so critical of the company in the past. Google is also said to be testing a micropayments service for other publishers that don't want to embrace the free-content movement.