Google Fast Flip: This sounds familiar

By Steve Outing

Google Fast Flip launched this week as a public Google Labs beta, and I’ve been surprised at some of the skepticism about it. The main complaint is that it takes a step backward by displaying screen captures of popular articles from a selection of media websites and makes them the entry point to finding the best content on media sites. The idea and design seem a bit old-school to some critics.

I like Fast Flip a lot, for several reasons:

  1. It’s an “alternative Google News” for those not wanting to be overwhelmed with selecting from thousands of media sources.
  2. It’s a more comfortable interface for some people, especially, I would guess, older online users who are still most at ease with print-like design than with lists of headline links to choose from.
  3. It’s not a replacement for Google News, but an alternative for those looking for a different way to find and read the best content from a selected group of quality sources.
  4. It’s Google’s first time in sharing with publishers some of the money earned on its own pages. The search giant doesn’t share revenue from links to news websites’ content on Google News, so this is a significant change in policy, even if only experimental — a way for Google to directly support media publishers, including those who complain that Google is eating their lunch by profiting from links to their news.

Frankly, I’m feeling a bit vindicated by Google’s introduction of Fast Flip. Last April, I wrote several blog posts suggesting that it would be in Google’s self-interest to turn Google News into a news search service that shared ad revenue with publishers that are included in Google News:
Google could come to the rescue, but won’t?
How can newspapers help Google?
To Eric Schmidt: What happened to ‘Don’t Be Evil’?

I also sent e-mails in April to Krishna Bharat, Google Distinguished Researcher and creator and leader of Google News, suggesting that revenue-sharing with news publishers would be a good thing for both the news industry and Google (and, thus, society in general as citizens remained well informed by a healthier news sector). I never heard back from Bharat, even though I’d met him in person a few weeks earlier at Stanford University during a fellowship interview.

If you read through the comment threads on the blog items above, you’ll agree that this was not among the most popular ideas I’ve ever floated in my writing over the years. I got lots of pushback, much of it to the tune of: Google is just smarter than media publishers; Google owes the news industry nothing because it’s already giving news sites millions and millions of user visits, but the publishers aren’t smart enough to figure out how to make money from that.

You can read the links above if you care about my original (unpopular) argument, but the crux is that by sharing revenues, Google would prevent angry and scared news publishers from locking down their content online, AND it would make it politically possible to turn on the ad spigot for Google News because it would share some of its new revenues with the creators/publishers of the content it links to.

While Google didn’t follow my suggestion for opening up Google News for revenue sharing with news publishers, it has done so with a few dozen selected media companies that are taking part in Fast Flip. It’s a variation of what I suggested last April to a generally vigorous assault on the idea.

It’d be nice to think that my humble blog had something to do with the Fast Flip revenue-sharing model, but that’s likely wishful thinking. (If it did, perhaps some nice Google executive will share some of that big pile of G-cash with me. :) Ah, but life doesn’t work that way.)

Anyway, I’m happy to see Google executives decide that it might be in their interests to share some ad revenues with media publishers. Fast Flip will be an experiment we’ll all be watching closely. Perhaps it will lead to a news-industry revenue source that starts to chip away at the News Crisis we find ourselves in.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!