The public launch of Google Currents this week was an interesting one for anyone that has used, and in my case loved, the Flipboard application. At first sight it really looked like a poor man’s version, using HTML and JavaScript to recreate effects and wrapping it all within an application to quickly make Google Currents cross platform. However the reason Google have done this is that unlike Flipboard, the content is not curated it is fed through the Google Currents publishing website by the website owners.

The Google Currents publishing site, which even at this very early stage in the application life cycle, is feature rich with masses of potential. If the product begins to get traction. The online application, which of course requires Google Chrome to run, is effectively a content management system. But the content doesn’t need to be written within the system, it can be fed from existing content streams. In real world terms this means that web sites can output content they have already made and use it within Google Currents to create a new channel for people to access it.

Features

With a spare few hours I thought I would have a play to see what the publishing site can do. Here are my findings:

Managing content

The first thing which is very apparent about the product is its link to Google; the content you use has to relate or complement the suite of products which Google already offers. However this still means that Google allows content such as photos, videos and social media (and strangely imports from ePub) which can be feed into separate sections.

Using very simple wizards, it’s really easy to set up automatic feeds of existing content from 3rd party sites as well as your own site, which will update as new content is released in the future. After import the author can either opt to edit the pages to make them more bespoke to the Google Currents system, or simply leave them as they are. The benefit of this tailoring is that the content can be made richer by adding photos, slideshows or videos.

Styling

The biggest surprise for me was the styling engine which Google have added, which admittedly is not for the faint hearted but provides a lot of capabilities for any budding web developer. It not only allows the author to add specific imagery to act as cover and promotional images, but it is also possible to use bespoke Google Current mark-up within the HTML together with CSS selectors to completely change how the articles,within the sections and the application, appear. Which can create a very professional magazine feel with a lot of scope to make the pages to look 'on brand' and like small microsites.

Combine social media

I have added this even though in my opinion it’s the worst part. Sadly I imagine if I spoke to any of the developers of Google Current they would agree. Google have made the decision to only natively support Google+ and leave out Twitter and Facebook without integrating using RSS, which is such a shame. It also means social connect features and real-time social media integration is lacking. But I am hoping whoever is high up at Google, who wanted to push Google+ and nothing else, has a change of heart before it’s too late.

In summary...

There is so much I like about Google Currents. In just a few hours I had cobbled together something which was fairly impressive and with the right amount of time and consideration a new channel with potentially new audiences could have been created. Sadly there is a few things which stop me wanting to take it further. The first is how each content types is treated almost in isolation, which in fairness to Google is the same with any content management system as everything is so generic that sometimes synergies are lost and content often presented in single strands instead of being mixed together. For example images from Flickr are within their own section, displayed in a single grid out of context, where it would better if they could be merged with other content types. Secondly, Google are not great at promoting some of their services making it hard for large organisations to find the investment to develop within them. It would not surprise me that without the interest from the general public, a lot of the early adapters such as Metro, Guardian, Techcrunch and the like might stop supporting the system. Fortunately I personally feel it is like RSS in the way it is easy to setup, and can run pretty much unsupervised, therefore providing a quick way to create a new channel to read content.