My Google Reader was filled with a lot of headlines on Google's new Fast Flip service this morning, but none of them amused me quite as much as Silicon Alley Insider's confused monologue:
7:45 a.m.: Google's Fast Flip Makes Reading Print Publications Online Easier
8:40 a.m.: Google FastFlip Is A Gigantic Step Backwards
10:29 a.m.: Google FastFlip Is Latest Attack On Amazon Kindle
12:25 a.m.: Google FastFlip Is Especially Useless On The iPhone
(Yes, SAI decided that "Fast Flip" wasn't Web 2.0-ish enough and removed the offending space themselves.)
The most recent two were written by Dan Frommer; the previous two are by two other authors. The 8:40 piece is actually cross-posted from another blog. Wouldn't it be nice if media publications had cohesive narratives?
The truth is, I'm most inclined to agree with the 8:40 post. I don't think this release is a particularly big deal; it certainly doesn't deserve the attention being lavished on it. At it's core, it is simply a very fast way of serving up low-bandwidth screenshots of websites. It fits somewhere below Google News and Google Reader. It has some good search and browsing features but I find it a bit too dumbed-down and the previews take up too much space - I feel like I'm missing content because my screen is filled with pictures rather than information.
I know, the point of the service is to present news in a style more akin to scanning a physical page for interesting items - but in such a case, I'm searching within a single graphical style, not between styles as I must on Fast Flip (I sound like I'm teaching ANOVA!). This is a major difference. If I'm scanning a page of the NYT, or browsing a magazine, I'm looking for headlines that interest me; I have already internalized the design/layout of that publication and essentially ignore it (even if it's what attracted me to that particular paper in the first place). Imagine if the NYT had a vastly different design on every page - it would be a nightmare trying to browse quickly for interesting content, since with each page turn I'd have to internalize a new layout.
Yet that is the metaphor Fast Flip currently embraces. I'd much rather see them reformat the text of every source onto a single template, and present the result as a giant uniform news service. This wouldn't be so far off from the "expanded" view of my Google Reader. Also, it would let me truly browse for content rather than design. And let's face it - once I move to any sort of aggregation, I'm effectively giving up on design anyway, since I've moved away from the host site entirely.