The new thing thing

There is something about the energy of Flipboard that makes you really feel good. It takes the random stuff from Twitter and Facebook and lays it out like the old front-of-the-book in Time magazine.

The randomness is the key. Usually I just dip into my Twitter home page or Facebook “news feed,” read a few things off the top, and leave, knowing I am missing a lot. The Flipboard iPad app scoops up all of this, in no apparent pattern, and puts it into fresh templates, where I can “discover” it. Nice! (Okay, it does use Helvetica.)

The design and the, uh, serendipity of the layout puts stuff in front of me that I otherwise miss. Plus, it makes my own tweets and mentions look really important, so that makes me feel good.

Now Flipboard has introduced Flipboard Pages. Partnering first with a small list of publishers, they’re offering special versions of articles in nice clean templates with a bit of each publisher’s look-and-feel. I immediately set up a Washington Post Magazine section in Flipboard to check it out. The first stuff comes up in regular Flipboard style, but if you click on “Read Article” it goes to the page layout. Nice! No scrolling: Pages. And full-page ads.

Presumably, if a link to one of a partner’s articles shows up in your Twitter stream, then Flipboard will direct you to their customized pages. The page layouts are simple, charmingly like Treesaver pages. That is, they page!

One breathless blogger, Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb says that “this is an iPad app done right.”  Well, it’s pretty cool, but what happens after you’ve finished with the article you found, what happens? It just stops. You have to go back to Flipboard to get the rest of the publication. (That can be fixed, of course, along with other UI rough spots.)

Flipboard Pages was last week’s New Thing. There was much excitement, since we all tend to get carried away with the new, and we always forget that the new thing does not always (if ever) shove aside the old thing.

Flipboard is a well-designed solution for getting content digitally on the iPad, and the iPad is the today’s Holy Grail for publishers. It’s one answer to the tablet content app problem, but not the only answer. It falls under the general category of aggregation, where you get stories from a variety of sources filtered by tags, or your social network, or by some algorithms.

Perez asserted:

Outside of a few publications read religiously, for the most part, news finds us via our friends. Flipboard makes Twitter and Facebook the jumping off point for accessing news, and the result is a news magazine we actually want to read.

That may be true… some of the time. Other times we like to get our content directly from the source—the writer (or the photographer or videographer). Sometimes we find it via a link.  Sometimes we go to Google to find it. Sometimes we follow links on blogs and in link lists on other sites. Sometimes we just hear about it and guess the URL. And sometimes we seem to get it just by chance.

That serendipity doesn’t happen as easily on the web as it does in print. That’s because the web was designed for information transactions via hypertext—not a continuous browsing experience. A stack of magazines seems to invite browsing. With the web you tend to get in and get out.

RSS readers were an effort to aggregate content from different web sites. Flipboard’s appeal is that it puts a nice visual layer on top of aggregation. What their Pages venture misses is the chance to let us go beyond a single article and continue reading through an entire vertical publication. They could add that, and/or someone else will.

These two content modes, aggregation and edited publications, do not cancel each other. The challenge for the media world is to find a way to bridge the modes and to offer different kinds of users experiences according to the reader’s own mode (or mood). And not just for the iPad, but to an increasing number of platforms.

Somehow I think we will see some other solutions very soon.

Next entry: El fin del mundo

Previous entry: A magazine and its web site