Page last updated at 03:48 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 04:48 UK

Google turns page on news content

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

fast flip
The BBC is the only UK media outlet that has signed up to Fast Flip

Google has unveiled a service called Fast Flip to let users consume news more quickly and to boost the flagging fortunes of the news industry.

The product is designed to mirror the way readers flick through magazines and newspapers.

Google has teamed up with more than 30 providers such as the BBC to provide what it calls a new reading experience.

The search giant was recently called a parasite for making money aggregating content it did not create.

"I don't believe we are part of the problem. I believe we are part of the solution," Google's vice-president of search, Marissa Mayer, told BBC News.

"We have tried to build platforms and tools that build a healthy, rich eco-system online that is supportive of content. This is a new way of looking at content."

Earlier this year, Wall Street Journal chief Robert Thomson called the search company and other aggregators such as Yahoo "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet".

The news industry has been struggling with how to broaden the size of its online audience and how to make money from content it has long given away free.

Last month, media mogul Rupert Murdoch said he hoped all of his major newspapers would be charging for online content by the end of June next year.


Fast Flip imitates a conventional print publication by offering screenshots of the web pages containing relevant articles.

Daily Mail printing press
Newspapers have struggled to make money from online content

The stories are organised following a number of different criteria. For example, readers will be offered articles that have been popular all day, that reflect their personal preference or that have been recommended by friends.

Users who want to dig deeper into the story can click through to the publisher's website.

To make money, Fast Flip also serves up contextual adverts around the screenshots.

Publishers who have signed up to provide content to the service will share in that revenue; that was proof, said Ms Mayer, that Google was keen to help the industry at a time when it was clearly struggling.

"We are excited to team with publishers and look at a new possibility for how people might consume news online and how to monetise it," said Ms Mayer.

Google admitted that there was no "magic bullet" to quickly solve the challenges the publishing industry faced but it added that "we believe encouraging readers to read more news is a necessary part of the solution".

Ms Mayer said the science behind this was simple.

"Advertising responds well when you have engaged users.

"If you have users that stay on the site for a long time and who do a lot of page views, all of those are good measurers because you will have a better chance to engage them with the ads and learn from their behaviour what type of ads to target," explained Ms Mayer.

Hands-on control

Ms Mayer told TechCrunch 50, a conference aimed at start-up companies, that Google co-founder Larry Page had asked why the web was not more like a magazine, allowing users to flip from screen to screen seamlessly.

Delegates were told that one reason had to do with media-rich content that took time to load - five to 10 seconds.

fast flip
Fast Flip marries the best of the web and publishing, said Google

"Imagine if it took that long to flip a magazine page," said Krishna Bharat, a distinguished engineer at Google who led the creation of the Google news service.

"We wanted to bring the advantages of print media, the speed and hands-on control you get with a newspaper or magazine, and combine that with the technical advantages of the internet. We wanted the best of both worlds," said Mr Bharat.

Ms Mayer revealed that initially they thought a solution to the problem posed by Mr Page was "a decade away".

She explained that Google had long been trying to harness increased speed, "shaving a millisecond here and another millisecond there".

But Ms Mayer said that the success of Fast Flip was down to having a specific problem to solve.

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

Initially Fast Flip will concentrate on audiences in the US. The BBC is the only UK-based media outlet to have a presence on the site, due largely to its popularity in America.

Other publishers involved include Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Elle, Popular Mechanics, Slate, Salon, the New York Times, the Washington Post and ProPublica.

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