I’ve been waiting patiently for my Flipboard invite since its launch last week. I received my invite earlier today and have been playing with it ever since.
At the moment I follow 74 terrific Twitter users. About 75% of their tweets contain links to interesting articles on topics dear to my heart. Flipboard turns this curated feed of news stories and blog posts into a beautifully personalized eZine. As I flip through Flipboard, instead of links to the stories in my Twitter feed, the first few paragraphs and accompanying picture from most of those linked stories are attractively and interactively displayed on my iPad. If I want to read the full story, I tap it and am instantly taken to the underlying story on its originating website. Another tap and I’m back to my Flipboard eZine. See the demo below:
Flipping from page to page is instantaneous.
Until now, Twitterific was my twitter app of choice on the iPad. But, like all other Twitter apps, it doesn’t show the content of the underlying stories linked into my feed. Instead, the Twitterific feed contains clickable/tappable links to the stories. It can take from a few seconds to 30 or more seconds to load the underlying story on an iPad or iPhone. Frequently the story doesn’t load at all. When that happens I need to refresh the link or launch the story in Safari. Frustrating!
Not so on Flipboard. When I click a featured story, the webpage with the underlying story appears instantly. There seems to be some caching going on here. I note, however, that web pages linked into the ‘lesser’ stories, the ones contained in Flipboard’s side-bar tweets with links (ie: the ones not turned into the pretty story boxes in Flipboard), can take longer to load and can suffer the same fate as Twitterific linked stories.
From the early demos I had worried that there would be some kind of limit on how far back into my timeline Flipboard will allow me to go. There appears to be no limit. As long as I keep flipping, Flipboard keeps going further back. This is particularly exciting for me because unlike seemingly everyone else on Twitter, I like to take up my feed from where I left off and move forward. I can do this with Flipboard. Hooray! Though, admittedly Flipboard is not designed to be used this way and it takes me some time to find where I left off – unlike the official Twitter app on the iPhone which does take you back to where you left off each time you return.
Emailing Stories from Flipboard
Another gripe I’ve had with Twitterific and all iPhone and iPad Twitter apps, is that when I want to email a story/link to someone, the link is copied into an empty email, but the subject line for the email message is usually something inane like ‘Message from Twitterific”.
When you forward a linked story via email from Flipboard, the title of the story becomes the subject of the email. Wow, what a concept!
When I compare my Flipboard feed to my Seesmic Twitter feed, for example, the contents of the feed ‘appear’ to be the same, but the tweets/stories are presented in somewhat of a different order. In Seesmic, like all other Twitter apps, the feed is reverse chronological. Flipboard, however, presents your feed in a quasi-chronological order. Rather than being precisely chronological the Flipboard feed seems to be arranged in an order that presents the feed in the most pleasing manner – remember it presents both the Twitter feed and the content of stories linked into the tweets, not just the 140 character twitter posts. But, it does provide the feed sort-of chronologically. For example, all the tweets in your feed from the last hour will generally appear within the last hour’s feed in Flipboard, but not in the precise chronological order that they were tweeted.
When reading the reviews over the last week it appeared as if Flipboard only presented a subset of the tweets in your feed. That did not seem to be the case for me. It was hard to compare my Flipboard feed to my Seesmic feed tweet for tweet because, as I mentioned above, the Flipboard feed is not presented in a strictly chronological order. But it did seem that the entirety of my Twitter feed was ultimately incorporated into my Flipboard feed.
This may be different for me than for other Twitter users though. I follow a relatively small list of Twitterers – 74 at the moment. Most people follow many more – hundreds and even thousands more. I suspect that for those folks their Flipboard feed would be a subset of the originating Twitter feed. I limit the number of people I follow specifically because I want to read ALL their tweets. I was quite relieved that every tweet in my feed will continue to be fed into my Flipboard feed. I’d appreciate it if others would leave comments below as to whether the entirety of their Twitter feed is presented in Flipboard.
One Gripe – No Classic RT Feature
While I can retweet a tweet using the new Twitter retweet function (which I dislike), I can’t directly RT the old way. Flipboard doesn’t even include the ‘/via’ RT option. RT’ing can be jerry-rigged however. Flipboard does allow you to reply to any given tweet. You can use the reply box to add an RT before the @name that is generated this way. Then you can copy and paste the tweet into the reply box to create an old fashioned RT. A bit clumsy, but workable for now – especially since you can copy the underlying tweet with just two taps.
Another Gripe – Stability
In the first two hours of testing I had two problems. For a few minutes the app wouldn’t load my feeds on start. It took about 5 minutes of repeated restarting before the feeds loaded. Also the app just froze on me several times. Clearly there are still some bugs to be worked out.
[Update: Several days in now, the app continues to freeze me out periodically]
Originating Tweet Oddity
When a tweet is ‘featured’ in Flipboard, ie: when a link within it is surfaced to a story block within the Flipboard eZine, the text of the person’s tweet does not appear on the main presentation page. If you tap the story-stub to see more of it, you can then see the originating tweet. From this sub-page, if you swipe from page to page you CAN see the originating tweet above each story. However, this view is substantially less compelling than the eZine format. I don’t like this ‘compromise’. I’d rather have the tweet appear above the featured story on the prettier main page. This limitation is hard to describe. You have to see it to understand.
[Update: A few days in and I still don’t like this. It makes Flipboard less personal than using Twitterific. This design choice arbitrarily cuts me off from the comments my friends are making ab0ut the stories they are linking to. It limits my choices to either a pretty but impersonal feed, or a more personal, but less compelling, even kind of clunky, feed.]
When reading a Twitter feed for, say 20 minutes, once you get to the end, you apparently can’t refresh your feed while within Flipboard. Rather, if you wish to see the tweets that have been posted during the last 20 minutes of reading, you have to close out Flipboard and start it up again. Weird.
Will it Pass Legal Muster?
I worry that the likes of the New York Times (see Pulse controversy) and Rupert Murdoch may try to sue Flipboard out of existence. As I understand it, Flipboard uses a combination of RSS and website scraping and caching to make this service possible. It is not clear whether doing this is legal. Rather than rehash this issue, I refer you to this Gizmodo article on the topic.
More to Explore
I haven’t yet looked at Flipboard’s Facebook integration. You can also apparently construct other customized Flipbook feeds from Twitter lists, RSS feeds and such. There’s lots more to explore.
[Update: I have now played with the Facebook integration. It’s nice to see family and friends photos on Flipboard, but I do not use Facebook as a primary source of news. So as I figured, for me the Facebook integration is less compelling than the Twitter integration.]
Regardless of any other features, Flipboard will undoubtedly be my defacto iPad Twitter reader going forward. The Twitter integration alone makes it a game changer – or dare I say, a killer app. Scoble would be proud!