As a contributor to The Mark News, I recently wrote about Flipboard and its implications on reading as a social activity. Here is the article below:
Magazines like Vanity Fair are struggling to adapt to digital readership. Applications like Flipboard can help.
As we continue to consume more and more online content, we seek an increasingly interactive browsing experience. The prevalence of smart devices such as BlackBerrys, iPhones, and iPads is creating new online behaviour patterns, with sharing and commenting becoming a normal part of digesting information. Magazine publishers are still struggling to evolve their products to service this new digital readership. Enter Flipboard, an iPad application offering a promising alternative that blends personal and professional content together to create a dynamic reading experience.
Many heralded the launch of Apple’s iPad as salvation for print publishing, a chance to breathe new life into a struggling industry. A few months later, readers are still waiting for their revolution. Publishers have released applications for their magazines, for example Condé Nast for Wired, GQ, and Vanity Fair, with mixed success. Plagued with criticisms of a clunky interface, such applications are making many questioning paying $4.99 for what one user described as a “glorified pdf.” By not simply converting their content and putting it online, publishers are missing on an opportunity to engage with readers on two levels.
One is multimedia experience. I downloaded the Vanity Fair application a few weeks ago and was disappointed with the multimedia offerings. While the application contained a handful of videos, they seemed to be sprinkled throughout the issue as an afterthought. The medium has evolved, but the content clearly has not. Surviving in the digital marketplace will require a fundamental retooling of the strategic approach currently used to create and distribute content. Multimedia needs to be integrated as an essential tool that supports the existing content and allows users to engage with the issue at hand in a variety of ways. The iPad’s ability to rotate the screen to alternate between horizontal and vertical viewing makes it the perfect device to seamlessly switch between video, photo, and text content.
The other is social integration. Social optimization site Gigya recently reported that web users are increasingly using their social network credentials when surfing the web to access content, but use different sites for different purposes. When accessing entertainment sites, 52 per cent of users opted to log in with their Facebook accounts. However, for news sites, Twitter appeared to be the most used site; 45 per cent of users selected the micro-blogging site to quickly share and spread news items. Both networks allow people to quickly disseminate information amongst their social circles and to comment on the postings of their friends. Many magazine applications don’t have this ability, making it difficult for readers to interact with each other around the content.
Does Flipboard offer a new hope? The newly launched iPad application aims to bridge these gaps and offer readers a new online reading experience. The free application, which aims to be the “world’s first social magazine,” uses your Facebook and Twitter accounts to aggregate content posted by your network, displaying the results in a magazine-like layout. With the scroll of a finger, you can turn the pages to browse, share, and comment on articles, videos, and photos. Tweets, status updates, and Tumblr posts (to name a few) get a visual makeover and are attractively arranged on each page. Clicking on a specific item enables you to see which of your friends have commented, retweeted, or “liked” it. One of my favourite features is the ability to hide any contacts who are overly aggressive in their posting (or prone to over-sharing details you’re better off not knowing!)
Complementing this personal stream of information, Flipboard also offers a list of categories that users can add to their application homepage, covering everything from news and technology to fashion, food, design, and celebrity gossip. The result is a perfect blend of personal and professional content that combines all your important information streams in one place. Now you can browse the latest news stories from the BBC right alongside that photo album of your nephews. Flipboard also supports Instapaper, which allows you to make “Read Later” bookmarks, so you can read articles offline later.
The interface currently holds nine content sections. More sections will be made available with future releases, along with the option to create more customized streams. I was impressed with the application’s beautiful design and intuitive navigation. It’s the best effort I’ve seen so far to come close to what the next generation of publications should look like.
Hopefully, publishers will take note of this type of application and incorporate some of its features into their own digital offerings to improve the overall quality of the industry. From a reader’s perspective, I would offer publishers the following advice:
- Linking social networks into content driven apps should be a standard feature. People want to discuss and share the interesting stories they come across online. In addition to simply forwarding links, commentary is becoming an increasingly desired feature. As a reader, I don’t just want to share a link with my friends, I want to know what they thought of it as well. Providing an environment for people to discuss content will increase the overall value of the site. Blogs have been encouraging reader comments, and the most successful have a vibrant community that engages in thoughtful debates. To me, this additional discussion adds more value to the original post or article.
- Design with offline in mind. As much as we would like to be connected all the time, sometimes we simply don’t have access to the internet. At the very least, applications should have a cache feature enabling readers to access their content when offline. This is especially true for video content, which should be hosted locally on the application. I was very frustrated that I couldn’t access any of the videos in the Vanity Fair application while I was on an airplane.
- Create an interactive experience that breaks down silos between online and offline. What I hoped to see in the Vanity Fair app was a mix of their magazine articles and blog posts. Publishers should incorporate all their content streams into one place. The shorter and more informal posts are great counterparts for the serious articles published in the issues. I encourage publishers to break down external barriers and start linking to other sources online. As we careen into the age of information overload, there is an area of opportunity for magazines to curate and identify the most interesting pieces of content, even if they were authored by someone else. Magazines shouldn’t be afraid of linking to other publications or resources that add to the conversation. Doing this consistently provides credibility and earns a reader’s trust. If a magazine is constantly providing me with articles of interesting and meaningful content, I will keep coming back.
Flipboard is a positive step towards the next iteration of publishing. Let’s hope others follow to provide readers with a beautifully designed and easy-to-use customized reading experience.