With 50 million users, Flipboard, the social news magazine available on the iPhone and iPad, has become a dominant player in content curation. Now, with competition in the space quickly heating up, Flipboard is launching what it calls customizable "mini magazines."
Before, the Flipboard app would surface relevant content to your iPhone and iPad from a number of sources: by tapping into your social feeds; by allowing you to follow publishing partners such as Fast Company and The New York Times; and by offering a slew of topic sections—politics, tech, and so forth—internally curated by Flipboard's editors and algorithms. But now, Flipboard is opening the floodgates and enabling any user to create a collection of media. The new version of Flipboard, says Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, "allows anyone to effectively build their own magazine on Flipboard. They can pull together content under any topic they're passionate about—[and share] other articles, photos, videos, music—pretty much anything."
The upgrade arrives only weeks after Facebook ushered out its redesigned news feed, as LinkedIn and Twitter continue to ramp up their content discovery and editorial efforts, and as Yahoo just agreed to acquire Summly for millions of dollars. How is Flipboard weathering the storm? Since Google recently announced plans to shut down Google Reader, the startup has already gained more than a million new users.
"I don't know how many of those are because of Google Reader, but we've certainly seen a spike," says McCue.
It's simple to start your own magazine on Flipboard. Just hit the app's new + button to create a digital rag, give it a title and description, and select a category. From there, as you browse Flipboard, it's easy to add an article or YouTube video or photo to your own magazine; a cover image will automatically be created for your custom magazine, too. Other Flipboard users can subscribe to your magazine, and you'll get notifications for when a user comments on a piece of content and also will receive stats such as how many page flips your magazine is seeing. "A community starts to build around this content," McCue says.
There's no limit to what Flipboard magazines can focus on. They're not designed to only be about news. McCue, for example, has curated magazines on topics ranging from space to Steve Jobs. He has one-off magazines containing albums of photos he took while traveling; a magazine featuring books he recently read, complete with appropriate links to Amazon and iTunes; and he even expects event-specific magazines to form like, say, a Flipboard magazine about music at the 2013 Coachella festival.
It's a new twist on the tried and true blogging formula. Magazines on Flipboard are simply blogs in a neatly packaged form—a broadcast platform that takes advantage of Flipboard's smart UI and curation tools. In that sense, the new version of Flipboard takes its cues from Tumblr and Pinterest: Users can share music, Flickr images, tweets, and products for other users to buy. Publishing partners can take advantage of this platform, too, by launching topic-specific verticals. Fast Company, for example, will have separate Flipboard feeds focusing on our Most Innovative Companies. The platform allows content creators of all levels to dive into incredibly niche topics.
But if the secret sauce of Flipboard has been its content curation, there's always the chance that such an open service could dilute the Flipboard brand and its high-quality content. But McCue is wary of such issues. "Anytime you do something like this, you're going to have some people who create really awesome stuff and some people who don't really create particularly awesome stuff," he says. "You'll have a mix. The same tools we use to find great content, we'll use to find great curators, and then we'll surface those to our readers." The startup is also launching a content search engine to help users sift through this onslaught of new content. Flipboard search lets readers find content shared on Flipboard, and discovery new content by topic, user, or hashtag. "We're not indexing the entire Internet like Google; we're indexing just what's being shared on Flipboard, so it's a very high-quality index," McCue says.
While the update signals a significant shift for Flipboard, it doesn't mean the company has strayed from its original focus of working with publishing partners. Today, for example, the company also partnered with Etsy to bring its blog and products to Flipboard readers. Flipboard will now be integrated with Etsy's shopping cart, meaning users can buy items directly from Flipboard, which will bring the company a revenue share.
And perhaps this is Flipboard's end game. Like Pinterest, Flipboard will now feature crowdsourced content, buoyed by publishing partners and power users. It will allows users to share and browse through photos, videos, songs, news, and recommended products. With more eyeballs comes more advertising revenue for Flipboard, and with more content, comes more opportunity for revenue sharing. As McCue says, "Shopping on Flipboard is going to be really cool."
But social as Flipboard magazines are becoming, McCue is hesitant to say the service is transforming into a social network. "We're less about being a social network, and more about being a content network," he says. "I think there's always going to a little overlap with some of things Flipboard and others are doing. Facebook will be always be about your friends; Twitter is about following influencers; LinkedIn is about your professional career. While Flipboard may do some similar things, for the most part, [we're] about great content."