Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Morning Brief: Flipboard issues major update to bring app to version 2.0; update allows users to share their own aggregated 'magazines'

Late yesterday afternoon Flipboard issued an update to its popular iOS app, bringing the app up top version 2.0. (The app in Google Play was recently updated bringing it up to version 1.9.27.)

First, what's new in version 2.0:

★ You can now collect and save content into your own magazines, tap the new “+” button to get started.
★ Your magazines are public, but can be made private (viewable only to you).
★ Use the new bookmarklet to add items to your magazines from your browser.
★ Get Flipboard notifications when people like, comment or subscribe to your magazines.
★ Easily email or share magazines to Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc
★ Personalized recommendations for more to add to your Flipboard.
✓ Search is now front and center on your Flipboard, with new improved results.
✓ Faster page-loading and faster flipping performance.
The big change here is that Flipboard has it made it easier to create, and share your own aggregated "magazines" – and part of the fun of the product is seeing what other users have come up with.

Flipboard is terribly popular, and this update will only make it more so for among its current users and those who buy their first tablets, with the company claiming some 50 million users (though that can not be substantiated as downloads do not equate to regular users). The company has also been able to raise some $60 million in capital from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Index Ventures and others, while attempting to find a way to monetize its audience in a way that can justify the investors faith in the company.

One of the biggest problems Flipboard faces is that there is no barrier to entry to its market. While Flipboard was among the first content aggregation apps launched for the iPad, it now finds that other companies such as Zite, Google, AOL and others have launched their own versions of Flipboard, each with a different take on the basic concept.

But Flipboard is undeniably the leader, and its ability to continually update and improve its product should protect it somewhat from its competitors. But my first thoughts on the product, written in this long post in July of 2010 still seem somewhat valid.

I suppose my own feelings about Flipboard are influenced by the idea that what the app creates can be called a "magazine". The thinking goes like this: these Flipboard "magazines" are in fact "magazines" because an "editor" (the reader) has gathered together the content. But to think this is all a magazine editor does would be to think that the editor of Time, Esquire or Vogue sees their job as simply piecing together what copy happens to fall on their desk. (I have a feeling more than a few journalists actually do see things this way.)

Besides, you know, actually editing copy, editors also drive the content creation process, not merely organize it. So these Flipboard "magazines" are not really magazines at all, but what they were to begin with: very nice looking collections of aggregated content – some organized well and with good logic behind them, others not so much.

But if readers and Flipboard want to call them magazines that's fine with me. That reporters would call them magazines, though, either reeks of press release regurgitation, or a profound misunderstanding of what defines a magazine. No doubt the idea of the magazine has been corrupted by the use of the term to describe certain television programs.

(Could a future update to Flipboard or some other similar app actually build in the story assignment process? Just a thought.)

So is Flipboard a danger to the magazine industry? Sure. (My God, what isn't a threat to the industry today?)

Every day nearly a dozen or more new digital magazines, or tablet editions (replica and new publications), are introduced into the Apple Newsstand. With this volume of titles, it is tempting to believe that readers would prefer to use only one app that can collect stories from "out there" and create a friendly, personalized publication.

But not all readers of magazines and newspapers want to be their own editors. Just as there are those TV viewers who will record their favorite shows then watch them in a newly configured lineup in an evening, the vast majority of viewers still turn on their TVs and sit back and enjoy (or not) whatever is available at that time.

Flipboard's update makes the app more attractive, more social, and more interesting – that is for sure. But the app still calls on readers to work to discover the content - and with more content that job is getting even harder, not easier. Flipboard makes organizing and displaying content easier, does it make discovering that content easier? (Yes, a bit. I'll admit.)

For me, the fun of the new Flipboard won't be that I will want to create my own magazines – though I can see where that might be an interesting way for magazine titles to try and repurpose archived material (though this seems a terrible use of that material when creating you own apps and special issues would present better circulation revenue and advertising opportunities). No, the fun will be in seeing what others create. Again, find the best editors and follow them rather than believe I know best. Three examples of this can be seen above in the animated GIF.

With millions of users, it is obvious that the media will have to continue to be leery of Flipboard and similar products. But Flipboard is hardly the new Google. It remains a popular reading app, and the undeniable leader. It is also getting better and better, and version 2.0 is certainly a major leap forward. I have a feeling that is will use Flipboard about as often as I did in the past – that is, not very often. But I recognize that the app has loyal users, and the update should be appreciated and make the app even more valuable for them.