It seems to be new Google (s goog) features discovery week, with new search parameters for searching the web in real time, and now a Labs feature called Fast Flip making an appearance. Fast Flip is a visual browser of online publications, designed to give you a quick snapshot of what’s being blogged and talked about at many major news sources at a glance.
If you’re looking to take the pulse of the web at any given moment (and you don’t want the static or excess sensationalism that goes along with using Twitter), Google Fast Flip is as good a place as any to start. It sort of feels like a concise, pre-filtered Alltop that provides a macro level view of some of the web’s most influential and respectable news sources.
Current sources include Esquire, BBC News, the New York Times (s nyt), TechCrunch, and Salon.com, in addition to about 35 other magazine, news and general information sites that receive regular updates. You can browse all of these by popularity, by subsection, by topic, or by source using Google’s new visual interface that works a little like Apple’s (s aapl) Cover Flow technology. Each site is represented by an image capture of the relevant page.
Clicking through to a source doesn’t actually bring you to the site in question, as I would’ve initially guessed. It actually opened up the relevant article in a reading interface, but doesn’t redirect away from Google Fast Flip. The reader view gives you a set portion of the article viewed as an image file, the idea being that you can see a quick preview before clicking through to the full story at the site itself. It sort of feels like searching through microfiche in the basement of the local library.
Arrows at the side of the image in reader view allow you to browse other stories in the category you’ve chosen, and an expandable tray allows you access to the thumbnails of all the stories in that series. You can also email and “Like” any story you find, which requires sign-in with your Google credentials.
Is it useful? Speaking as someone who depends on the Internet news media for my online career, I think it may be. It’s a great way to see what the major outlets are talking about all at once, without having to visit each individually. I can see people arguing that an RSS reader does the same job without as much distracting visual flair, but for people who process information visually, Fast Flip might prove more effective or more comfortable overall.
Do you think Google Fast Flip will catch on as a search tool? Do you see yourself using it over something like Alltop or RSS?