Recently I published a post commenting on the fact that Flipboard was an interesting App to check out, if you were able to. As the application was released there was such an influx of people downloading it and wanting to use it that their servers were overwhelmed. At that point I had watched their demo video, but had not yet been able to try out the App.
Now, they seem to have gotten things under control, even though you need to go through a registration process that lets them have better control on the number of people putting demand on their back-end services.
A couple of days ago I finally managed to test Flipboard, as I was able to put in my request and got their response email telling me that I was now allowed to configure the application to access my Facebook and Twitter accounts. That is a simple process and once you’re done with it Flipboard will start to pull in content from your accounts and to present it as you’ve never seen it before.
When you have configured your social network accounts and chosen a couple of other information sources (or infosource for short) you’d like to access through the application you can move will be presented with a checkerboard of small items, showing an item from each infosource you have selected. The way this is presented reminds me a lot of how printed magazines organize their content index, showing you a picture and some call out text about the main articles in their different sections. Well, that is hardly unexpected as Flipboard defines itself as a Social Magazine.
That is in fact a very good definition as Flipboard does a great job at presenting information that is gathered from your social networks in a manner that strongly resembles my conception of what a good magazine for the iPad should look like.
I’ll freely admit that I hate Facebook’s interface. Although I do go into Facebook every couple of days to post something and read up on what my friends and colleagues are doing it is only very sporadically that I spend more than few minutes at a time on the website.
Well, Flipboard changed my entire appreciation of Facebook. I still don’t like Facebook’s interface, in fact I think that I like it even less now, but Flipboard grabs links to blog posts, news articles photos and comments from my Facebook friends and presents them to me in a way that is enticing and engaging. I believe that I’ve placed more comments on Facebook items in the past 2 days that in the previous 2 months. Why? Because the interface draws me in to actually take a closer look at content I would not have clicked through to see in Facebook and then offers me the chance to comment on it.
The picture shown above is a perfect example of a very interesting bit of information that would probably have escaped me entirely, were it not for how Flipboard displays the information. The photo that is shown in this screenshot is from a post where Collis Ta’eed comments on the fact that he and his company had made the cover of Australia’s NETT# magazine. Collis, CEO of Envato, is great guy with some very interesting activities which I follow with great interest since he started his company. As another text line in Facebook, I would probably have missed it, had I bothered to access the site at all on the afternoon when this was posted. As a large picture showing the magazine’s cover it was very hard to miss on Flipboard.
Thought I use Twitter a lot more than I do Facebook, and I do use it through a great client called Osfoora, when I ran across a link that the same person had posted, to an article about Google and its difficulty in sustaining its growth level, I just skipped it. The articles title was “Google: The search party is over” and while the title is quite interesting it did not catch enough of my interest to drive me to tap through to read it.
When presented in a magazine like fashion with a picture and some of the text, however, I was intrigued enough to read it a bit and then I became really interested and tapped through to read the full article from the Web.
As you can see from some of the pictures I have embedded in this post, Flipboard keeps the name of the infosource you are reading at the top of your “magazine” page and displays content in a manner that is much more enticing to read as articles and images are displayed instead of presented as shortened URLs. The way things are displayed in Flipboard is consistent, regardless of what is the infosource from where it came. If it was a link to a blog post on Twitter or a comment on Facebook, or simply a blog post or news article from one of the infosources that you can choose to add to your personalized magazine, they all look the same.
When you tap on any item of interest they grow into a sort of popup which presents a information about that particular item and any comments that might have been posted on it.
While you are going over this information the application is doing something very smart. It seems to be downloading the original Web page of the content you are currently focusing on, so that if you decide to tap on the “Read on Web” button, you are immediately taken to that page on a built-in browser view as shown in the next picture.
This is a neat little trick as you are generally astounded with how fast you’ve moved to the full view of the Web content. In fact it mostly gives itself away by loading so much faster than you would expect a regular Web page to load, even with a good Internet connection. The only moments when it couldn’t entirely do the job for me was when I tapped through to the Web without really pausing to read the content of the popup view.
Another interesting aspect of how information if presented when using Flipboard, is the cover, or covers. When you first enter the app you are shown different pictures and text quotes from the items it is downloading from your infosources. Again, this is presented in a very magazine-like way and can be quite eye catching. I’ve selected a pair of covers I was shown today in order to give you an idea of how these look.
To the left you can see a cover that is derived from an article on Wired, which is one of the available infosources you can choose from. Notice how the “magazine’s” logo is presented in a semi-transparent manner on the upper left corner and the call out text is present in the lower right corner of the image.
As the images that the App chooses are larger than the screen resolution for the iPad, the images slowly move in the background allowing you to see a bit more than you would see with a static cover. This has another effect which is to keep you looking at the cover long enough for it to change into another picture, with another text call out, from another source. If you are lucky to get interesting articles with good imagery you can actually go through several covers before accepting the invitation to “flip” through to the index page.
As the pictures are chosen automatically by the application this will not always be the case as you might end up looking at a not so pleasant image. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I am aware that it might as there is no human filter to screen out what might not be adequate for an actual magazine cover.
In the few days I have been using it to read content from some of my preferred sources, Flipboard has certainly changed the way I consume information, making me dig deeper into topics which would have just skimmed and leading me to tap through to read articles I would otherwise have skipped or simply failed to notice.
This app has also led me to interact more with people I know through Facebook, as it has made that content much more interesting to see and go through, drawing me out to comment on pictures and posts which I would have missed in the sameness of Facebooks bland and uninteresting interface. I think it is interesting to note that while Flipboard’s implementation of this concept is outstanding and has certainly set the standard to which other information aggregators will be held to, it is not the first application to take steps in this direction. Several months ago Pulse News did something similar for RSS feeds, and though they did not go as far as Flipboard they did put a very nice face on them.
Flipboard is showing us how we will interact with information in the future and there are several messages which are plain to see. Major websites will have to compete against an entirely new class of information aggregation applications and these applications will have the upper hand as they will be mashing together content from several such websites.
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