Does Flipboard Represent the Future of Media?


To say that the media world – particularly print media – is in a bit of a state right now would be a gross understatement. The arrival of the web and its impact on advertising, reading habits and people’s expectations happened so fast and so suddenly that people are still reeling from it.

Though there are many issues at play, two of the biggest are:

1) How do you create content designed for screens rather than paper?
2) How do you include the new social elements of the web into a new media product?

Well, it seems an answer has arrived in the form of Flipboard, a new iPad app that is being called revolutionary and “one of the best iPad apps” around. What does it do? It takes all the links from your social feeds – i.e. the things that the people you’ve chosen to follow on Twitter or Facebook are linking to – and turns them into a digital magazine of the things you and your friends and the world are reading.

This sounds really promising. And it just might represent the future of digital media. Here’s why:

Social Curation

While it’s always wise to be a bit wary when Robert Scoble raves about something and calls it the next big thing, part of Flipboard’s promise is that it flips the concept of the digital magazine on its head.

Traditionally we’ve thought of the magazine as this form that collects things created by writers driven by some kind of common purpose. An outdoorsy magazine collected stuff to do with hiking, camping, etc. A tech magazine collected things to do with the digital world. Similarly, a magazine like the National Review collects opinions and articles of interest to conservatives, and in the same way The Nation collects articles of interest to liberals.

But instead of gathering together similar content or content with a similar editorial stance, Flipboard creates a magazine based on your social feeds. It isn’t about aggregating similar content, but aggregating the strands that are constantly floating around your social online world. So what we have here is a magazine that redefines what a magazine is: rather than being built by someone else’s standards or interests, it’s socially curated and built for you by your ‘friends’ – even if your friends on Twitter are Techcrunch or CNN.

That’s a big deal. First, it seems a step closer to melding how we read on the web and how it’s different from print. Rather than reading from one or two sources, online we read from many. Some are of our own choosing and many come from friends – but they are from all over the place. Secondly, because we usually pick out social circle based on similar interests, rather than the ‘pull’ of news aggregators, it turns the magazine into a form of ‘push media’.

Print Meets Web: A Hybrid Design


Part of the problem with digital magazines thus far has been their attempts to replicate both the model and the ideology of print in digital form. Instead of a form suited to the interactive, multimedia nature of the web, we’ve seen attempts that either look like PDFs or not like magazines at all.

The interesting thing about Flipboard is that it mixes the editorial, ‘professionally curated’ content of print with the socially curated tone of social media and the professional design of print.

Rather than the long, unending lists of Twitter feed or a Facebook stream, Flipboard takes the links contained in those feeds and lays them out like a magazine. The benefit is that moving and sifting through all that content is much easier when it’s presented in a pleasing, well-organized layout. What’s more, the app uses algorithms to measure which content you’re looking at most – say, that of a friend whose opinion you really trust – and pushing that to the top of the list.

Easy for Noobs Too

Thankfully, rather than only relying on social feeds – which would obviously make the experience of heavy users much better than newcomers – Flipboard also makes it easy to simply add general topics of interest or rely on simple Twitter lists that they’ve created for others to follow.

One problem, however, is that for the time being, even noobs have to own an iPad. Yes, it’s selling very well, but it’s not close to being a mass market device yet. This will, initially anyway, be a problem for Flipboard.

A Promising Future?

Flipboard certainly seems to be a breath of fresh air. The combined focus on both the social and editorial content looks like it solves some of the problems web content providers are having by creating a form that actually feels native to the web.

And looking forward, Flipboard are investigating revenue sharing deals to integrate individual, ‘tablet-enhanced’ articles into their feeds for a small fee. If they can figure out a way to help monetize all that content, the Flipboard could, rather than only being a really interesting aggregator, could then become something really big.

Have your say: is Flipboard a real revolution in web-based media? Or is it another Scoble-hyped flashy app?

By navneetalang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang

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