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Last night, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) introduced Fast Flip, a virtual newsstand that allows users to browse by topic, section, or source. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) should be curious; Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) should be worried. Fast Flip looks a lot like the interface the Kindle would have, had it been built by Apple.
If that sounds like a slight, I don't mean it to be. The Kindle is brilliant in its balance of performance and economy. I love how I can send PDF copies of the latest Fool newsletters to my Kindle for on-the-go reading. Fast Flip, by contrast, is merely a portal.
Fast Flip isn't even much of a breakthrough. Content resides elsewhere; Google merely pulls in screen views and adds the browsing and organizing tools. Click on a story and you'll be sent to the publisher's web page. But Fast Flip looks and feels right, like flipping through a newspaper. The difference is that users, not publishers, determine what's browse-worthy.
For example, in browsing for stories about space this morning, Fast Flip's front page presented me with six stories from six different publishers. The results weren't perfect; a Smithsonian article referred to aliens for context -- the story itself was about marine organisms that migrate to unfamiliar parts of the deep. This may be why Fast Flip is still tagged as in "beta," although Gmail carried this designation for years.
Publishers have thus far proven open to the experiment. Both of the namesake newspapers of Washington Post (NYSE: WPO ) and New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) and McGraw-Hill's (NYSE: MHP ) soon-to-be-sold BusinessWeek are displaying content at Fast Flip. Nearly 40 big-name magazines and newspapers are involved.
Over time, Google plans to place ads around certain news articles and share revenue with publishers, The New York Times reports.
In the here and now, Fast Flip is the most efficient content browser I've seen, and it's already available on Android-powered smartphones and the iPhone. Both devices allow users to swipe through pages -- again, as if flipping through a newspaper.
Look alive, Amazon. Steve Jobs may be the only one laughing at the Kindle now, but Larry and Sergey are chuckling in the corner.
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