Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friends As Curators? ... Social Media & Customized Magazines

Yesterday’s Associated Press report on a new Apple iPad app that produces personalized “magazines” – really a collection of links – curated by those in one’s social networks (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) is an intriguing prospect that shows the tech sector’s continuing creative thinking in the face of the publishing industry’s wheel spinning and teeth gnashing.

We’ve all heard about how our society is moving from the information age to the “social age” in media and technology. This new app, called Flipboard, represents one of the more interesting and progressive steps in that transformation. In a nutshell, Flipboard creates a visually engaging consolidated news feed – based on links (to articles, pictures and video) that those in your social network have posted to Facebook or Twitter. The assumption being, if it’s stuff your friends like, you’ll be interested, too.

Here’s the quintessentially Apple-esque promo spot for the app, featuring Flipboard CEO Mike McCue (his partner in the venture is ex Apple iPhone guru Evan Doll) :

There is, however, at least one potential problem with this otherwise clever, useful and interesting app. Namely, the current trend by some of the world’s most reputable media companies (Time Inc., The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist et al) to put the most succulent fruit of their labors behind pay walls. If this trend continues and expands, as some industry insiders anticipate, some of those “socialized” links won’t offer much beyond a graphically appealing headline or image and a bit of teaser copy. The real meat of the content will be locked away out of reach – until you pay for it. Of course, this won't just be a problem for Flipboard, it’ll also affect the value of the links on FB and Twitter, too.

So beyond your friends own photos, videos and text-based diatribes and, inevitably, a plethora of YouTube videos, more substantial news reports and thoughtful analysis could be quite lacking in your Flipboard “magazine.” That, I imagine, is a surmountable problem. For the right price and/or degree of market penetration, I’m sure the media companies in question will be glad to work out deals with the Flipboard folks that will unlock those content doors.

If that happens, then consider me enticed. Off course, I’d want to make sure such an app had preference settings to control who exactly in my social network was curating the content appearing in my daily “magazine.” Having experienced the ... uhh ... “breadth” of our social networks for a while now, I doubt any of us would want every one of our long-lost buddies feeding that stream.

Flipboard will certainly be something I’ll be keeping an eye on in coming months. I just might have to get an iPad sooner than I thought.


  1. Now the backlash ... or at least deflation of the flipboard balloon:

    More to come, I'm sure.

  2. Another view from Boston Globe tech columnist Hiawatha Bray: