Flipboard Rolls Out a New Upgrade With Smart Magazines
Many of the early apps and games that you could get for an iPad after Apple first introduced the tablet in 2010 are no longer available or as popular as they once were. Flipboard, however—the magazine-style news reader with the flip interface—is still around and doing just fine, says co-founder and CEO Mike McCue.
The company announced its latest upgrade on Wednesday, which McCue says takes the customization features of the app to a whole new level, by adding what he calls “smart magazines.” The new version is aimed at iPhone and Android users, since 95% of Flipboard use occurs on those platforms, but a tablet version will be coming as well.
In effect, smart magazines are bundles of content on various topics, aggregated for users by Flipboard’s algorithms, but also based on recommendations from its human editors.
One of Flipboard’s early innovations was that it allowed any user to create their own custom magazine by adding articles that they came across in the app or on the web. Those could be articles from websites they subscribed to via RSS feeds, pieces they encountered on Twitter, or from digital magazines that partner with Flipboard and distribute their content through it.
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According to McCue, more than 30 million such magazines have been created to date, a that number has grown by 30% in just the past year. The company has over 100 million monthly users, and the CEO said its net revenue doubled in 2016, as he predicted it would in an interview with Fortune in October 2015.
The new smart magazine feature builds on the idea of custom magazines, McCue said, but instead of users having to do all the work, Flipboard does it for them by automatically creating personalized collections on topics that interest them.
For example, new users can simply select from a number of different topics they are interested in and Flipboard will build them a magazine on the fly that they can read or share with other users. They can also add their own selections to these magazines, to help improve the recommendations in the collection.
McCue says the new feature is an extension of Flipboard’s existing “Cover Stories” offering, which collects stories from a variety of sources it thinks you might be interested in, based on your interests and behavior inside the app. The smart magazines feature takes this curation up a notch, the Flipboard CEO says.
The point of doing this is two-fold, says McCue. On the one hand, it makes it easier for new users who don’t have time to follow a lot of things or create custom magazines to get a curated feed of interesting content. And for hard-core users of Flipboard, the new feature can help sort through all of the stuff they come across in their various feeds and magazines, filtering ones that are all about one topic—photography, for example—into a smart magazine. That helps with the information overload problem, McCue says.
“I follow about 1,500 things—magazines, topics, Twitter accounts and lists,” McCue says. “It’s hard to discover new things or browse through all of that. So a smart magazine takes all the things I follow about photography, and adds all the things that our curators have suggested and sources others recommend in one easy place.”
In addition to algorithms, the company also has about 30 editors or curators worldwide, some of whom are on staff and some of whom are part-time or on contract, and they recommend articles for various topics as well.
McCue says that using human editors (as Apple (AAPL) also does for its curated news feature), makes Flipboard much less susceptible to the “fake news” problem that some users have complained about on Facebook (FB). Although algorithms are necessary simply because of the sheer volume of data Flipboard is sifting through, humans are crucial, he says.
There have been rumors in the past that Flipboard was looking to sell, but McCue says he is not looking to be acquired. “There are always conversations going on, but nothing like a serious discussion,” he said. “It’s not that we wouldn’t ever sell, it’s just that we’re focused on building something that has value.”
Flipboard did at one point have discussions with Twitter (TWTR) about a potential acquisition, but the talks fell through in part because of the turmoil in the executive suite at the real-time news service, which ultimately resulted in CEO Dick Costolo stepping down and being replaced by co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey.