Bing's Visual Search is a nice, but at the end of the day it's just clustered image search and one that requires the additional download of Silverlight. Sorry, but I already have too many extra downloads on my machine and can't be bothered with another. I find Fast Flip far more interesting in its current than its future potential. Fast Flip is a great alternative to search-based news feeds. Yes, Google News is a tad faster, but speed is not the priority for the non-early adopter, non-tech-savvy masses.
Can Fast Flip be the bridge and the savior of a decaying print publishing business? There is a revenue-sharing model that has already appealed to over 36 publishers and counting (including The Christian Science Monitor) combined with a unique visual layout that's very akin to flipping through your favorite magazine, I think this has mass appeal written all over it -- and mass appeal means adoption. That said, in an interview with Reuters Krishna Bharat, a Google Researcher, admitted that the business model can change, so time will tell -- but it seems Google's courtship of the print world is working, and it is willing to keep adjusting to make the marriage work.
Speaking of print courtship, this makes a very nice segue to Google Books and its groundbreaking settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American publishers. Great background information on the multiyear legal dance can be found at the Association of Research Libraries, showing this has been no easy fight for Google, one that required the company to make a lot of surprising concessions. The end result is positive for Google, with over 20,000 publishers and authors willing to make millions of books discoverable via Google, including out-of-print books. I know what I went through to track down an out-of-print copy of Fergus Henderson's "Nose To Tail Eating," and this service would have been a welcome time-saver. Why anyone would not want this is beyond me.
Google has played some smart hands, working with its opposers to find a settlement that will work for everyone. They created a system that classifies three types of books: in-copyright and in-print; in-copyright out-of-print; and out-of-copyright -- complete with an independent, not-for-profit Book Registry to ensure the correct shareholders can be found and properly compensated. Google's mantra to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" seems to be panning out, as it now has a variety of universities and libraries looking at institutional subscriptions to enhance their current collections.
Think about it from the student's perspective: goodbye, microfilm and hello, millions of books full of needed information that they will not have to buy outright. This would also benefit professors trying to teach new disciplines like SEM. There are not many textbooks available that cover new media and new technologies, which makes it hard for the universities to keep up. In light of this, many professors work to create their own teaching materials. I recently worked with Prof. Mark Jeffery at Kellogg to create a SEM case study for his students. Google Books and the Library Project would only benefit professors like Jeffery trying to teach cutting-edge subjects. I am even willing to bet that eventually corporations will bite on this for training and development. As a manager I always push my teams to read more and be smarter. How sweet it would be to have a subscription so everyone on my team could read books like Avinash Kaushik's "Web Analytics An Hour A Day."
If Google can continue to keep the right parties involved and add to this growing digital card catalog of copyrighted books with ecommerce revenue-sharing models, providing out-of-print and/or out-of-copyright books available for pay-per-download with read-online options, I think the company will have a very commendable winner. Google has already agreed to allow other booksellers to sell access to out-of-print material it scans (another smart move).
So to conclude, I think Google is spot-on with these initiatives. I love the irony that just a couple years back Google was considered a leech to many of the very publishers signing up for this. It's amazing what a down economy and a squeezed business can do to one's outlook.
Another spot-on move, albeit slightly off topic though, is the flying saucer gimmick that generated excellent buzz and didn't require Google to spend a million dollars in advertising. Even Danny Sullivan is in a tweeting fervor over it. I think all the attention and speculation around "why crop circles?" and "why today?" is well-timed.
Well played, Google.