Flipboard points the way forward for social media

One application created such a storm when it hit Apple’s iPad last week that you could easily have missed the news that the BBC have finally released apps for the iPhone and iPad. So what app managed to create such a storm that even those without iPads were talking about it?

A nice freebie app called Flipboard that pulls through the content your social connections share via Twitter and Facebook and displays them in an easy-to-consume magazine style format. Sounds straight forward but what has generated the buzz is the quality of the execution. Take a look at the developer’s Meet Flipboard video to get a feel for how it works.

Having been overwhelmed by the interest, to the point where an invite system had to be implemented, and the subsequently declared potentially illegal this is an app that really doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of the press.

Putting all of the controversy to one side however what is immediately clear is that the app itself represents a fantastic idea. Convention dictates that shared content be gathered around the person doing the sharing – in essence making consumers select which content to read based on who shared it. There are countless examples of this – Twitter itself, the social features within Google News and Google Buzz, Facebook, Delicious… The list goes on.

Perhaps accidentally, by displaying shared content in a magazine-style format Flipboard has put the content first – there is still an icon and a ‘Shared by…’ line but the article’s content, headline and imagery are given greater prominence. This makes it easier to identify the content that is genuinely interesting (as opposed to shared by interesting people).

This change in the way social media  is display is important because it grants you a ‘normal’ magazine style experience that just happens to only displays content that people you follow found interesting enough to share. It is easy to get caught up in the slickness of the execution – pages that turn like pages – and many have, but it is perhaps the way the articles are displayed that represents Flipboard’s biggest innovation.

The ironic twist is that the developers of Flipboard hope to monetize it by licensing the technology of the visual execution to traditional publishers (mentioned in the Gizmodo article linked to above). So we can have traditional magazines on the iPad with pages that flip. Flipboard’s biggest strength is not it’s visuals but the way it re-imagines what media can be – could relying on licensing may just be missing the point?

Adam Russell is a Digital Account Director at LBi.