Flipboard: What Was Old Is New Again

Flipboard exemplifies the modern, successful application. Since its release, it has outwitted some of the most successful magazine and news organizations of the century. Many attribute its success to the innovative interface, which combines elements found in high-profile magazines with the fluidity of modern digital design, but others find the very idea behind the app to be the most intriguing aspect. The premise of Flipboard is obvious: in an age when opening a Twitter client also downloads a deluge of updates and information, Flipboard automatically sifts through the rubble and reveals only the truly great content hiding in the mundane updates that populate modern social networks.

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Design

When it was first introduced, Flipboard was truly an innovative entrant in to the iOS app space. In a world before “flat” was the hottest trend in mobile design, Flipboard was already eliminating needless interface garbage. At the same time, the creators of Flipboard integrated gestures ahead of the curve.

Flipboard employs an excellent design based around the "swipe" gesture and pages that display information.

Flipboard employs an excellent design based around the “swipe” gesture and pages that display information.

Opening Flipboard for the first time reveals an app based on the idea of swiping. Content is presented in pages, but the pages are not the photorealistic objects found in other apps like iBooks. Swiping through these pages shows that there is a “crease” depicted on-screen, though the actual physics surrounding the navigation of Flipboard reminds me more of Microsoft’s Metro interface than of something like iBooks. The physics are another part of Flipboard that has been polished to near-perfection: swiping through the app is enjoyable thanks to the illusion of directly manipulating onscreen objects.

Navigating the app is simple. Upon first being opened, Flipboard displays a page that includes your personalized options, as well as certain default magazines, which are just pre-rolled options that contain specific types of content. The approach works well: while your personalized options are based upon any account (including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr, Instagram, and many more), the other default options include news and information from a myriad of well-known sources. The strength of Flipboard is certainly in the curation and presentation of your social media feeds, but these other options offer even more interesting types of content.

Algorithms & Content Discovery

The discovery of content is what makes Flipboard so useful. The design helps to allow for this discovery, but the algorithms that decide what to show and where to show it are the true star of this app.

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From photos on Facebook, to retweeted stories on Twitter, Flipboard acts as a way to view the most relevant information on almost any social network.

Put simply, they work perfectly. Sign in to as many social networks as you want, and Flipboard doesn’t skip a beat. Updating to load newer content is quick and responsive, and Flipboard does a fantastic job of loading images for relevant links.

Importantly, it doesn’t take the time to load everything. The “magazines” that it creates are of finite length, so view them as a highlight reel instead of a full replacement for a social network’s respective app. It uses the analytics provided by a social network (such as retweets and favorites on Twitter, or likes on Facebook) to surface the most popular or controversial posts in your Flipboard feed.

Sharing

In May of this year, Flipboard rolled out a major update. This update included the ability for users to create their own “magazines”, or a curated list of articles and content that they enjoy. Other Flipboard users could then follow users, thus creating a sort of social network around sharing articles via Flipboard.

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Flipboard allows you to customize the various sources that it will load. In addition to that, Flipboard includes built-in categories of content.

Interesting, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed how I use Flipboard. In fact, I no longer follow specific users. The reason for this is simple: I quickly found that most of the content being published by those that I followed was already propagating through Twitter, and thus was already being picked up by Flipboard. Ultimately, in my eyes, the feature feels rather gimmicky, but luckily these magazines are easily ignored.

Beyond that, individual articles can also be shared via most social networks.

Conclusion

Almost every single one of us has various accounts on different sites that are dedicated to providing content to their users. If, like me, you find keeping up with all of those websites a dizzying task, you will find Flipboard useful. The application is a perfect example of something designed specifically for the touchscreen and internet age, as it combines a simple interface with an outstanding premises, and executes on everything with aplomb.

Flipboard is today's newspaper: it's a source of news that is inherently relevant.

Flipboard is today’s newspaper: it’s a source of news that is inherently relevant.

Headlines offer the most relevant news at a glance. Photos, taken from social networks, give you an idea of what your friends are up to. The term “news” is no longer decided by an editor of a newspaper, or by the publisher of a magazine. The idea of a single party curating dozens of sources of information, and then forming one coherent way to digest the most important pieces and bits of this information has never gone away. And yet, the newspaper and magazine industries are slowly dying. The very institutions that previously made a profit on this process are going the way of the dinosaurs. What was their cardinal sin? They failed to make the transition to digital.

Flipboard replaces editors with algorithms, reporters with social networks. Flipboard is the newspaper for the digital age, and as such it belongs on every iPad.


Summary

Flipboard collects information from various sources, including social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and curates that content to form an excellent way to browse news relevant to the specific user.

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