Google's Fast Flip and the Return of Serendipitous Surfing

Last Updated Sep 16, 2009 10:29 AM EDT

Much has been said about Google Fast Flip this week both here, and elsewhere. But for all the talk of user interfaces and revenue share deals with publishers -- which will be what make this work -- what made Google Fast Flip intriguing when I played with it is that it returned some serendipity to both the Internet experience and the reading experience. As so much of what we do on the Web these days is dominated by search algorithms, and a predetermined notion of what we're interested in, simply falling across some interesting content isn't something that happens much anymore; I could see myself in future checking out Fast Flip just, well, because I'm always looking for new ways to procrastinate. Here, for instance, are a few stories I came across just in the last few, um flips: You have to go to the site to really get how quickly the content pops, and how quickly the avalanche of news on Fast Flip can be. Seeing that range of content took me only five clicks. And it's not just about its clickability. While we wait for the overstuffed home pages of our favorite news sites to load, Fast Flip does as good a job as the Web can do in recreating the flip, flip, flip of pages we used to engage in every day, at home and on trains and in doctor's offices. That comparison isn't meant to make the habit seem trivial, nor are the headlines above intended to make Fast Flip sound trivial. Part of the fun of reading magazines and newspapers is that they don't only serve up the content you asked for, but the things you didn't.

The revenue split that Google will engage in with Fast Flip publishers is welcome news, but what could really make this compelling is how this different way of displaying content and advertising will affect the effectiveness of online ads. So far, the service has one skinny ad banner running down the right hand side. However, even if there is no further innovation in the model itself, since Fast Flip presents only one story and one ad per page, that alone makes both have more presence.

I should point out that there are reasons why Google Fast Flip isn't completely serendipitous. After all, it does contain categories such as "Most Viewed" and "Recommended" that assure that certain content will float to the top. But Fast Flip, in its ability to let users move through content quickly and surface it in a more impactful way, makes for a blissfully more varied surfing experience. Whether it saves print media or not, it's a very positive step.

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