Google Kills Its Fast Flip News Reading Experiment

To news executives who argue it is destructive, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has tended to highlight five things to the contrary – (1) its First Click Free scheme, (2) its Fast Flip reading tool, (3) Living Stories, (4) OnePass, and (5) the four billion clicks it gives to news sites each month.

Today, that defence is one less, as Google shuts Fast Flip amongst 10 products earmarked for closure in Google Labs’ downsizing.

Launched in September 2009, Fast Flip had assembled news web pages as thumbnails (as though on a print newsstand) and let readers flip through them (as though they were paper). The idea was to re-linearise the hypertextual web and was in keeping with what Rafat Ali calls the move “from flow to flip.

It’s something that was always going to be a difficult prospect on the conventional web but which could have proved interesting on tablets, where aggregators like Flipboard and Zite plus own-brand publications are finding growing audiences for an interaction mode that has more in common with analogue than “digital”.

Partner content had come from The New York Times, the BBC, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) and others.

But Google in July said it would scrap the Google Labs umbrella of which Fast Flip was a part. Now the Fast Flip project page says: “For the past two years, the Fast Flip experiment has fueled a new approach to faster, richer content display on the web — which will live on in our other display and delivery tools. We want to thank the dozens of participating U.S. publishers for their collaboration with us in pioneering news content browsing and reading experiences for the Web and mobile devices.”

Google is shutting Aardvark, Desktop, Fast Flip, Google Maps API for Flash, Google Pack, Google Web Scrutiny, Image Labeler, Notebook, Sidewiki and Subscribed Links, writes SVP Alan Eustace.

No one is really losing anything from Fast Flip’s demise. As NYT digital SVP Martin Nisenholtz told paidContent at launch time: “There’s no grand plan here, nothing more to this other than learning. This is not about any kind of large strategic relationship issue.” Fast Flip did see Google share revenue with publishers from contextual advertising but it was likely small fry.

Its closure may suggest Google won’t be training the technology toward offering a tablet news publishing interface..