Walk-through: Google Fast Flip Brings 'Magazine' Metaphor to News Browsing

Google's news reader uses static page images to display news articles instantly. Whether it's really a faster way to read news is open to debate. Here's a short guided tour of the new approach.

Google Fast Flip: Some Back Story

Monday at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco Google announced a new news reader, Fast Flip, that tries to make online news browsing feel more like flipping through a magazine . OK, but why? The back story, according to Google Search Products VP Marissa Mayer, is this: Some months ago Google founder Larry Page asked why you can't shuffle through Web news articles as quickly as you can articles in a paper magazine. If news pages loaded really, really fast, people might read more news, and see more ads around the news, or so the thinking goes. So three Google News engineers set out to make a news reader that pre-loads images of news article pages, instead of loading the actual web pages containing the articles.

The result is Google Fast Flip. The following slides should give you a feel for how Google Fast Flip works.

News Organized in 'Magazines'

The news home page, or "front page," as Google calls it, aggregates all kinds of articles from the 36 content publishers that are participating so far. Google takes a static screen shot of articles at those partners' sites, then pulls the static images into the application (that's why they take no time to load).

The main point of Fast Flip is to organize these static articles into "magazines" that are easy to flip through for the reader. The Fast Flip front page organizes articles into magazines in four main ways: The top row features magazines made of "Popular" articles (most recent, most clicked, etc.); the second row divides news by "Section," (similar to newspaper sections: Politics, Sports, etc.); the third row creates magazines based on "Topic" (stories on news subjects that are currently popular online), and the fourth and bottom row lists articles by "Source" (click to see only articles from SPIN, for example).

Each row of articles is collapsible, as the "Section" row is in the image above. Also, the articles in each row rotate in carousel fashion, controllable with the blue arrows at the ends of each row.

Choose Sources For Your Front Page

Clicking the "All Sources" tab (located in the "Sources" section at the bottom of the front page) brings you to a page where you can input six of your favorite online news sources--so long as they are Fast Flip affiliate sites. Google then pulls articles from those sites to populate your "front page."

Begin Flipping Through Your Magazines

After clicking on an article from any of the rows on your front page, the article appears in full-page view, or as much of the article as will fit in the window (there's no scrolling down to read the rest). However, depending on the size of the image at the top the article (if there is one), you can usually get an idea of what the article is about from the text that appears.You can click on the blue arrows to move forward or backward through the articles in the section. The articles appear instantly because there's no Java script, Flash, etc. to be loaded, only a simple screen image.

Link Out to the Full Articles

If you find an article you want to read all the way through, you just click on it; this opens a new window containing the original article at the site of the publisher (i.e. New York Times, Newsweek, etc.). And yes, this is a live website, so you have to wait a few seconds for the page to load.

Social News Reading Features

Fast Flip lets you vote on articles you like by hitting the "Like" button in the upper right hand corner of any article page. Stories that get the most reader votes end up listed under the "Recommended" tab in the “Popular” section at the top of the front page. As seen above, you can email a story recommendation to a friend by hitting the "Email" button located just above the "Like" button.If you are signed into your Google account, you can see which stories people in your Gmail contacts list have "liked." These show up under tabs in the “Sources” section at the bottom of the front page.

Some Sections Don't Have Enough Sources

This may be temporary, but some sections (here the Travel section) seem to be dominated by content from just one publisher (here Men's Journal). This suggests that Google hasn't yet signed up enough publishers for some content types. Most sections yielded stories from a diverse array of publishers, however.

Fast Flip Was Born for Mobile

Fast Flip may be a better app for mobile devices than for desktop ones.

The mobile version of Fast Flip now runs on the iPhone and on Android smartphones. The front page screen for mobile users (above left) provides a simplified list of links to popular articles, sources, and topics. Once you choose one, you are taken to the first article in the category (above right). To move forward or backward between articles you use the sideways swipe gesture, left or right, across the touch screen of the device.

Selecting Articles on the Mobile Version

When you tap the screen on an article, a dialog box appears giving you the option of linking out to the original version of the article (above left) or zooming in on the text of the preview image (above right).

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