Just shy of a year following my decision to no longer be a reporter for The Next Web, I’ve continued to be enthralled by the hustle and bustle in the tech industry, from funding announcements, product releases, acquisitions, and more. And my role at Orange Silicon Valley (see disclosure) requires that I keep up-to-date on the latest happenings, all for various reasons. Naturally I’ve been looking into tech solutions to help me navigate the massive amounts of content being churned out across the Internet, including but not limited to, Evernote, Delicious, Twitter (favoriting), Instapaper, Pocket, and Feedly. All are great services, but for me, something just didn’t seem right about it — it needed to be really useful across various platforms.
That’s when I started to pay more attention to Flipboard. Granted, this wasn’t the first time using the publishing platform as I’ve covered it many times before while at TNW and even dabbled into it with my own magazine, but previously, I was mostly a reader, not a creator. But now that’s all changed and over the past few months, I’ve been using (abusing?) it to capture all the news that I find interesting and useful to others, instead of sparing people my constant barrage of Tweets.
A lot of power has been given to Flipboard users over the past few years, especially after the company introduced its self-created magazine feature. And was appeared to be evident from CEO Mike McCue’s talk during a ReadWriteMix event, the company is shifting gears to cast itself as more of a platform and not the content creator it once was. So while I’ve been seeing this first-hand, I don’t think that it’s totally quite there…yet. This is why I’m offering my public feedback to Flipboard about what I’d really like to see enhanced and/or added to the product to really help make self-curation even better:
#1. Improved integration between mobile and the browser
Currently, it seems that when you create a magazine on the mobile device, it’s “different” than what you’d see on the browser. It’s almost like there are two different products, but they’re also the same. What I’d like to see is better integration between the two — the native mobile app looks great, naturally, but perhaps the Web version could use a touch-up. Right now, it’s difficult for people to remember the web addresses of magazines that they follow — for example, my FYI magazine URL is flipboard.com/section/fyi-bBZQei — so it appears that Flipboard has a mobile-first perspective. That’s not to say that the company is wrong in its approach, but now is probably the time for this to be improved, especially with more than 2.4 million magazines created.
One thing you’ll notice is that on the mobile app, you’ll see a slew of magazines that you can follow or browse through. However, on Flipboard’s website, that’s not there — it’s not even possible to log in directly from the homepage and it’s pushing you to download the app. That’s not entirely bad, but I’d like to see a similar experience on the browser: show users what they can expect on the platform by offering sample magazines like The Daily Edition, or something else.
It was July 2013 when Flipboard made its magazines available to everyone on the Web, making it a rather universal tool. But right now it’s primarily a read-only product. The experience navigating through it just isn’t as streamlined as one would have on mobile devices so there’s certainly a discrepancy between mobile and desktop.
#2. Better tools to help advertise magazines
Now that Flipboard has given the keys to the kingdom back to the user, one thing that I’d like to see is more resources and tools in order to help capture reader attention for self-created magazines. Right now, the company has tools and widgets that you can use to curate content into your magazines, but not enough to attract visitors to read your content and also follow you. It would be great to have the means to let users market their creations.
#3. Updated labeling of articles and improved filtering
Perhaps one of my biggest “peeves” about Flipboard is not knowing how new an article is. At least for me, I’d like to keep track of the latest happenings and if I see an article suggested by the service that says it was published an hour ago, I think it would be new…but only to discover that the article was from two weeks ago? Overall, Flipboard should clearly delineate new stories so that users won’t have to constantly cycle through their news feed to determine what’s new and what’s not.
In addition, it would be great to tap into the recommendation engine of Zite and improve the filtering of sources. Often times, as someone interested in web design, I’m pleased to see well-formed articles around responsive design, Google design sprints, etc., but there are occasions when I’ll see irrelevant sources that are nothing short of spam. Also, I’d like to have advanced controls to tell Flipboard what sources I’d like to read less from. Yes, the application has a way to “show less like this”, but I’m wondering about what “like this” means — does it mean the source? The topic? The author?
#4. Improved organization capability
I’ve been slowly creating multiple magazines based on various interests, audiences, topics, etc. My main magazine is all about tech news, but is a general bucket for all things tech. However, I’d love to be able to eventually break it out into trade publications, perhaps one for net neutrality, telecommunications issues, gadgets, or just one on funding. However, it’s difficult to parse through the thousands of articles that have been previously curated.
#5. Improved sharing workflow
One of the nice things about the desktop is that it’s easy to add things right into your magazines — well at least for the most part. You just find what you want to flip and click on the browser extension. Then add it to a chosen magazine and you’re done. But on mobile, the workflow seems a bit lacking. Right now, if you’re seeing a link on Twitter that you want to flip, you need to copy the link, then go into the Flipboard app and then add it right to your magazine. Often, I find myself having to constantly switch between apps in order to curate stories, and it’s not just with Twitter, but also on other apps like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.
Another workflow issue I’ve had is being able to flip content into multiple magazines simultaneously. Right now, in order to post a story into my FYI magazine, or my “Sunday” Reads, I’d have to do it individually, which isn’t a total bummer, but it is time consuming.
The bottom line here is that while I have some thoughts on how Flipboard could improve itself, I’m not criticizing the product by saying it’s bad. It’s certainly captured my attention and may be on the cusp of opening up new segments, perhaps in the realm of self-publishing like what Quora and LinkedIn did with blog posts. It’s definitely not a platform that’s going to go away anytime soon and will be interesting to see where it progresses over the next few years.