December 03, 2009
Google Fast Flip
Posted by Gordon Smith

Did you catch Eric Schmidt's W$J editorial yesterday? Behold the "fantasy news gadget":

It's the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load. 
Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. I zip through a health story in The Wall Street Journal and a piece about Iraq from Egypt's Al Gomhuria, translated automatically from Arabic to English. I tap my finger on the screen, telling the computer brains underneath it got this suggestion right. 

Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

Schmidt is not backing down from Rupert Murdoch, but arguing for the creation of a new business model for newspapers. For a peek at first step in the direction he is going, check out Google Fast Flip.

The theory—which seems to work in practice—is that if we make it easier to read articles, people will read more of them. Our news partners will receive the majority of the revenue generated by the display ads shown beside stories.

Fast Flip was introduced in September with the idea of combining the experience of browsing through physical newspapers with the value of online news stories. Some wonder why we would need Fast Flip when we already have RSS readers, and I can understand that sentiment. Nevertheless, in just a few minutes of browsing on Fast Flip, I could see why I might want to use Fast Flip in addition to Google Reader. 

RSS readers are wonderful, but they display only my subscriptions. Many stories that interest me do not come up in my reader, and to that extent, my subscriptions are underinclusive. Of course, there is an easy fix for this: expand the subscriptions. But volume quickly becomes a problem. I don't want to see -- even for a millisecond -- every story offered by most feeds, even if I might be interested in occasional stories in that feed. In this way, subscriptions are overinclusive.

So I try to strike a balance, subscribing to feeds that hold a high degree of interest (mostly blogs) and searching for other stories by browsing the internet (mostly selected news sites, including the W$J, NYT, and WaPo). But there is a high degree of inefficiency in browsing, whether one does it through a feed reader or by moving from site to site. It seems to me that Fast Flip improves the browsing of newspapers generally and it has the potential to introduce me to newspapers that I normally would not browse at all.

Not bad. It almost seems like a fantasy news gadget.

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