By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 9:46 pm
A new iPad app called Flipboard is launching tonight. It aims to put a fresh new interface on social content by giving it one of the most venerable interfaces of them all: that of a magazine–complete with a cover, sections, and pages full of stories you can flip through.
Flipboard gives you a section of photos and other items your friends have shared on Facebook and one based on your friends’ Twitter activity. You can also choose sections (based on Twitter lists) which pull in articles on topics such as politics, tech, and fashion–or plug in any Twitter account or Twitter list to create a custom section.
Tapping on any story lets you read it in its entirety without leaving the app–Flipboard embeds Web pages from the originating sites, and loads them in the background so they pop up instantly when you’re ready to read. You can also read Facebook comments and retweets, comment and retweet yourself, and share items by e-mail. One thing you can’t do is use Flipboard when you don’t have an Internet connection: It loads content on the fly and doesn’t cache it.
Flipboard’s interface is one of the most…well, iPaddy ones I’ve seen to date. The typography and photos look beautiful; it artfully formats pages on the fly in both portrait and landscape mode; and its distinctive page-flipping animation is clever without being annoying. As long as people on social networks keep sharing items, the magazine never runs out of pages–you can just keep flipping.
The magazine-like presentation and generally clean look makes perusing content feel downright relaxing–a very different experience from wading through the clutter of Facebook or drinking from the Twitter firehouse. It’s extremely slick, and at least as inviting a reimagining of the magazine for the tablet era as anything I’ve seen from an actual periodical publisher.
At the moment, Flipboard sorts the stories in a section based mostly on time: the stuff at the front is whatever’s freshest. I think there’s enormous potential for the app to get cooler by organizing things in a more sophisticated manner, so the “stories” that are likely to be most interesting are most prominent. That’s the goal, Flipboard executives told me–and to help it happen, the company has just acquired The Ellerdale Project, a company that indexes and analyzes real-time data from sources such as Twitter.
Flipboard is free; cofounder Mike McCue (who I first met almost twenty years ago when he started a Windows utility company called Paper Software) told me that the startup plans to make money by eventually inserting pages of fancy magazine-style advertising into the app. It’s also contemplating the possibility of for-pay premium content offerings. And while Flipboard is iPad-only for now, its creators plan to bring it to additional platforms.
Herewith, some images of this neat app: