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Google Lets You Fast Flip Online Magazines

Google Fast Flip
Click on the graphic for a larger view. Source: Google

When Google co-founder Larry Page speaks, developers at the search giant listen. Last fall, Page asked why the Web wasn't more like a magazine, so that users could flip from screen to screen as they might the pages of Newsweek or some other magazine.

One reason is the time it takes for Web pages to load.

"Magazines have media rich content that takes time to load … five to ten seconds. Imagine if it took that long to flip a magazine page," said Krishna Bharat, a distinguished engineer at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) who led creation of the Google News service.

Bharat and his team got to work on a solution that came together faster than originally expected. "We had to reset our thinking. We thought this would be years or a decade away," said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search product and user experience at Google, in a presentation at the TechCrunch50 conference today.

Live today, the new Fast Flip service from Google was developed in conjunction with three dozen publishing partners including the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Popular Mechanics, Newsweek, Fast Company and online sites Salon and ProPublica.

But unlike a traditional magazine, FastFlip lets you stitch together pages from different sources to create a kind of custom magazine made up of many sources. Once you've entered a term in the search bar at the Fast Flip home page, the service will show you a magazine article with relevant content -- if it can find one.

A personalized, multi-source magazine

For example, entering "Kim Clijsters," the newly-crowned US Open women's tennis champion, results in a gallery of magazine pages to choose from. Click on the article from the BBC online to read and a right arrow click on the page brings you to the next relevant article about her victory from the Washington Post and so on to other sources.

"We want the convenience of print news and hands-on control, but the technical advantages of online news and aggregation of multiple sources and continuous updates and the ability to have the content personalized for you," said Bharat.

Another demo showed Fast Flip running on an iPhone. Google says it's especially valuable on a mobile device where the small screen and speed delays can easily frustrate users. The partnership with content partners lets Google better render their content and coordinate ad placements for monetization.

Mayer noted Google has long been focused on speed "shaving a millisecond here and another millisecond there," but Page's mention of a specific problem helped focus the effort that resulted in Fast Flip.

"A big part of innovation is having the right goal and asking the right question," she said.