FLUD: A Social Reading Experience

I’ve mentioned before how there is an abundance of reader apps available on the App Store and here at iPad.AppStorm we just can’t get enough of them. So, this month I decided to take a look at the latest version of FLUD.

With the popularity of apps increasing on Facebook we now are able to easily share with others what we’re listening to, reading, and watching in realtime. FLUD is a reader that looks to add a social experience to your everyday reading by giving each user the ability to create their own “news personality” based on what they read and share with others.

First Impression

More and more developers are getting attention by producing apps that incorporate beautiful design, and that is certainly the first thing that you notice about FLUD. Once you get past the welcome screens you are greeted with a well organized, attractive grid design.

FLUD's design

FLUD incorporates a clean, modern design.

As you can see, the stories from each feed are organized into a headline and three columns format. It’s easy to quickly scan through stories and keeps your sources separated and well organized. From here you can tap a story to expand for the full article or add it to your reading list for later.

There is also a very minimal toolbar available at the top that allows you to access your profile, refresh stories, view your activity feed, and add sources. I like how simplistic and small the toolbar is so that the focus remains on the app’s main feature, reading. While I like having all those features, I don’t want them getting in the way of my content.

Getting Social

So, after “oohing and ahhing” over the interface and getting my feeds in order, (you can choose from numerous news sources, social networking accounts, and importing from Google Reader) I began to explore the many social features available.

Adding Sources

There are many options for choosing what sources to keep up on.

Like most apps you can share articles on many social networks (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) and also through email. The main distinguishing point is the ways you can share with those who are using FLUD. When you find a story that you like and wish to share with others just tap on the heart icon to “Flud” that story. At the top of every article you can see who has viewed that article and who has chosen to Flud it. I love the way the makers have coined a new phrase. I could just picture one of my friends saying, “Oh, you didn’t see that yet? I Fluded it yesterday.”

FLUD

Tap the heart icon to "Flud" stories you like to your followers.

Activity Stream

Once you Flud a story it shows up in your activity stream and the streams of anyone who follows you. Activity stream looks very similar to a timeline on Twitter and this is when you realize that FLUD is basically a combination of Twitter and a reader app.

Activity Stream

The activity stream looks similar to a Twitter timeline.

Just as on most social networking websites you are given a personal profile so others can learn a little bit about you. Your profile shows your picture, username, how many articles you’ve read and fluded, who’s following who, and some other stats about your reading habits. This is also where you can access stories you’ve saved to your reading list for later. The one complaint I had was that you can’t take your picture from the app in order to add it to your profile. You have to leave the app, take a picture, and then import it from your camera roll.

Your Profile

Each user has their own personal profile to show off their "news personality."

While there are many options, my excitement very quickly turned to disappointment when I tried to find friends. I found there was no one from my Facebook or Twitter accounts using FLUD yet. Obviously, this is no fault of the developer, but it’s a good thing there’s the “invite a friend” button. As I scanned through stories it became apparent that the social community – this app’s main attraction – seemed quite small. I kept seeing the same users listed as those who had viewed articles and most of the articles in the “Most Fluded” section had been shared by 5 users or less and viewed by no more than 50 people. I don’t mind being a trendsetter, but it’s hard to get excited about being social with what seems currently to be such a small community.

Other Setbacks

While exploring I noticed a couple issues that keep FLUD from feeling like a final product. Often stories would glitch and refuse to scroll down unless I exited the story and reloaded it. Sometimes articles would only show the first sentence or two even in the maximized mode and when I attempted to load the story on its website it would display a different story altogether.

While these technical issues can be addressed in a minor update, one of the things that I found really frustrating was the lack of the ability to refresh all your sources at once. So, you find yourself hitting the refresh button and waiting a minute every time you switch from one source to another and the app didn’t refresh automatically when reopened either. It seems as if more thought has been put into the overall design than being able to practically use it.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think the idea of creating a reading community in the way FLUD has done is a unique one that has a future. The designers have done a great job at creating an app that is aesthetically pleasing with a beautiful layout. The social concept is fun and it’s incorporated everywhere throughout the app. It’s also interesting to see the “news personality” of other users.

If it wasn’t for the issues I’ve already listed I’d be ready to recommend FLUD, but it feels like the app is still in beta. Until the community grows, the social aspect leaves you wanting for more. While I believe the developers have put forth a solid effort, I think we’ll need to wait for the next major update to see if FLUD can really take off.

So, what do you think? Do you like the idea of a reading based social network or do you think social networking has been overdone?


Summary

FLUD is a reader that looks to add a social experience to your everyday reading by giving each user the ability to create their own “news personality."

6