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Top 5 Google Labs projects

In the 1990s, many people knew the Internet by a different name: AOL. America Online was the lens through which millions viewed the Web. At the time, there was little reason to look anywhere else.

In 2011, Google has come perhaps the closest to once again luring people into a single vision of the Internet – from Google search and YouTube to Gmail and Android phones.

To keep people in the Google way of life, the company constantly launches new services. In fact, Google has an official "20 percent" rule that asks every employee to spend "one day a week working on projects that aren't necessarily in our job descriptions."

These extracurricular experiments live at GoogleLabs.com, a self-described "playground" where anyone can try out the almost-finished projects. Recent alumni include Google Maps, Alerts, and its SMS text message directory service.

The current collection showcases 50-plus "bubbling test tubes." There's no guarantee that any will graduate to full Google status, but here are five projects that are worth donning a virtual lab coat to test for yourself.

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Google Fast Flip

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1. Fast Flip

This news service pairs the speed of online journalism with the aesthetics of magazines.

Here's the idea: When perusing a print newspaper, readers can maneuver through pages at their own pace, quickly skimming headlines for stories that pique their interest. Websites, however – encumbered by ads, videos, and images – can take a while to load even on the fastest broadband browsers. With Fast Flip, users can virtually leaf through headlines from top newspapers at a speedy pace – the best of print and online worlds combined, perhaps.

Google has partnered with dozens of publications, including the Monitor, and organized their articles by subject matter, source, and popularity.

In true Google fashion, the program picks up on an individual's reading habits to customize selection.

Google shares its Fast Flip ad revenue with the news outlets. This Labs project certainly won't save journalism on its own, but it is one more way for news companies to reach readers, and a fast way for news junkies to get the latest information.

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