Google Currents Crashes Newsreader Party

Flipboard calls itself the pocket-sized social magazine and this is an apt description for a social newsreader so popular that this week when it launched an iPhone edition, it was overwhelmed with traffic and crashed. Obviously there is tremendous interest in this category which explains why in April of this year the company raised $50M at a $200M valuation.

Another player in the space Yahoo! has Livestand, an app which has improved over the months but still has a somewhat non-intuitive user interface. And there is Zite… Acquired by CNN this past August, this app is more like Flipboard with a solid UI and available on the iPhone this week as well.

As with any emerging space, Google often throws its hat in. And thus, this week Google Currents was launched and it is a solid entry into a crowded space. The UI is slick and intuitive and it works fast and has a clean layout.

There is no revenue model yet but one can easily imagine ads being overlaid on the pages or proudly displayed atop articles.

Will Google wipe out the others in this category? Maybe but for now it is its second shot at the space. Remember Fast Flip which came out in September of 2009 and euthanized two years later?

I happened to like Fast Flip but never really used it that often. I am generally a Google Reader user and the simple interface allows the rapid absorption of hundreds if not thousands of headlines during a busy day. But as I recall, it wasn’t easy to see lots of news at once with Fast Flip.

But with Currents you can see about five stories per page depending on the source, photos on the page, etc. You could call it a Flipboard rip-off.

The activity in this market shows us how important it is for the tech industry to have control over the reader interface. In other words, there is a race to see who can own the news reading space the way Kindle owns it for books.

The difference of course is quite often, news is free, meaning an ad model needs to be successfully applied to these readers and that works best when you have scale.

Google has the major advantage here as it has the advertisers and the deep analytic behavioral analysis to know what ads work best with what content. Moreover they know everything about you as you login with your Google credentials.

All this means that the other companies in this space will have a major challenge keeping up with Google when it comes to extracting the most revenue per viewer.

Interestingly Yahoo! should be a strong player in this space as they too have tremendous analytical information on users but its execution hasn’t been adequate for much of this decade.

The question you have to wonder is when will some of these companies partner with Facebook to show ads based on Facebook profile information? This should result in more targeted offers.

My bet is on Flipboard founder Mike McCue – I’ve known him for over a decade as he also founded Tellme and successfully sold it to Microsoft a few years back. One would imagine that Microsoft would pick up Flipboard as well in the next few months or years and then work with Facebook on integration of its advertising system with Bing data thrown in for good measure.

One other point worth making is Flipboard is a great way for users to manage their social networking experience, meaning Facebook has got to at some point be concerned about losing the control over the “social experience” its users have.

All the more reason this company too may be interested in picking up Flipboard at some point soon. This as you may recall was the reason in-part Twitter purchased Tweetdeck for $40M this past May.

I’ll keep you posted as this plays out but for now I’m going back to my tablet for some more flipping.

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