July 20, 2010

Flipboard Unveils Social Magazine for iPad, Buys Ellerdale

The iPad played a major role in today's record-setting earnings from Apple, and strong sales of the device are helping developers find new ways to leverage the product's screen and form factor, at the intersection of the portability of the mobile Web and the power of a desktop. Tonight, a new company called Flipboard debuts with an iPad app that brings your social streams into a completely new light - no longer the world of chronologically ordered status updates and one-liners, but instead, rich graphical pages, which can be flipped, like a magazine from one screen to the next as you go further back in time. The result is a highly compelling way to consume the news your friends share, and it immediately trumps all other RSS-based solutions for the iPad in terms of user experience.

Flipboard emerges tonight after lifting the shroud of secrecy on the project. The company has raised millions from VC firms including Kleiner Perkins, and the company has already made an acquisition, that of the Ellerdale Project. The Ellerdale team will be leaving their Menlo Park offices and joining Flipboard in Palo Alto at the combined companies' new headquarters, as they work on the new app. As I met with the team today, they described the fit as a perfect combination of Flipboard having an amazing front-end with Ellerdale providing strong back-end data. Ellerdale, if you may recall, was among the first partners to gain full access to Twitter's firehose of data.

A Full Flipboard With Nine Tiles

You Can Add Twitter Lists to Your Flipboard

Upon downloading Flipboard to the iPad, users are prompted to follow a number of curated collections of news sources, supplied by the app, or to connect their social streams, starting with Twitter and Facebook, to one of 9 squares, aligned in a 3x3 grid. You can even add Twitter lists you have made, to see a subset of those you follow in a new way.

Future versions of the app are expected to offer more than nine tiles, and will also see support for new networks, likely including Google Buzz.

After years of getting used to paging from the top down to see one-liner updates with a URL that launches a Web browser, Flipboard brings us back to the more traditional days of a cover page and flipping casually left to right to get to later pages of a magazine. Rich media from Twitter, Facebook or any other feed is displayed in line, including photos and video, and Web links are displayed with a preview excerpt of the story - while clicking out takes you to Safari on the iPad.

A Page on Flipboard Covering My Twitter Stream

In the past few years, we have seen the debate rage of whether Twitter has surpassed RSS readers in terms of finding the best content on the Web quickly. Flipboard helps make services like Twitter and Facebook much closer to RSS readers, with a much friendlier UI that makes sense even to the most casual non-geek.

Browsing Facebook on Flipboard is Actually Enjoyable

As the company described a meeting I had with them earlier today, this is the first "social magazine" for the iPad. The first page shows the most recent items from your stream, diving into the links shared from all those you follow, and as you flip the page left to right, you go back in time. Every person using the application has a different set of content and a personalized experience, based on their own social network.

Browsing My "MyFavoriteGeeks" List In Flipboard

While the application itself is downloadable for free, Flipboard is already thinking about rich ways to receive revenue. They explained their plans for full-page high quality ads, much like those in print magazines, and used similar language to that of Apple and iAds. But they didn't talk about a way to reward original content creators, or their downstream sharers, for their work. Theoretically, as third-party ads against RSS feeds have raised concern, this move may as well, unless it is assumed that third-party ads against excerpted articles is within the gray area.

A New Way to Read Hacker News!

In addition to browsing the articles themselves, you can see downstream conversation around the original content - be that comments on Facebook, or tweets from your friends that contain the specific URL. You can engage in that conversation from Flipboard by replying to Twitter shares or adding your own comments to Facebook, but it isn't aiming to be yet another Twitter client, so a TweetDeck or Seesmic killer this is not.

With Flipboard's unveiling, this closes the door on Ellerdale outright. Their site is expected to be made end of life as soon as tomorrow.

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