Flipping Over Flipboard – But Should We?

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Last week we saw iPad users everywhere (at least those using social media anyway) go gaga over a new app called Flipboard. For the first time in a very long time I heard myself call something a “game changer”. It was a viral hit from the word go, and I certainly wasn’t immune.  David Armano and I were twitter-gushing like two little boys who just received their first Lego set. If you don’t know already, Flipboard basically takes content from your Facebook and Twitter streams, parses the article links and photos that it finds there and repurposes them into a magazine style layout. A gorgeous, entrancing layout at that.

A Game Changer

There’s a lot of kerfuffle going on right now about the nature of the way Flipboard extracts the data from websites and whether it violates content copyright law in the process.  Feel free to go look that information up, it’s interesting, and could have a large impact on how future copyright laws are written.  But this article isn’t about that.  The more I use Flipboard the more I believe it has the potential to truly change the way we consume social media, but when taken to its logical conclusions I’m not completely sure that’s a good thing.

A Delicate Balance

You see, Flipboard’s primary focus is obviously articles and graphics, not the dialog that takes place between them.  And let’s face it, a great deal of the stuff you see flowing past you already on Twitter are links to articles.  The authors of those articles want to achieve as much reach as possible, so anything they can do to get their content in front of you is a good thing. In a forum like Twitter however the notion of being “social” is generally a counterbalancing act for all of that material.  In a way it’s a control mechanism for insuring that people exercise constraint.  Meaning, sure you can post links to your own articles, but if you want me to pay attention you need to be sociable and interesting in between those links.  When Twitter is viewed via Flipboard however all of the dialog simply gets in the way, its real purpose is to get those articles in front of you in a easy to consume way.  If enough traction is gained by apps like Flipboard the fear is that the balance between “social” and “promotion of content” is no longer as necessary, the social structures that promoted restraint are removed.  The progress we’ve made towards a dialog based structure from that of a monologue takes a step backwards.

Rewarding Bad Behavior

Currently this is more theory than anything else.   Particularly since the existing usage pattern is one of using both a twitter client in addition to Flipboard.  But think through the behavioral impacts if the majority of people use a consumption interface like Flipboard more than a combination creation/consumption interface like a typical Twitter client. Retweets? Massive decline when viewed on Flipboard alone.  That impacts reach of the original message, thus even more incentive to tweet that link as often as possible so that Flipboard users will find it front and center.  The Flipboard viewer doesn’t care that you tweeted it 12 times a day, because they don’t see it happening.  They aren’t viewing a true stream over a long period.  The back and forth dialog that takes place around the articles? Non-existent.  Comments on the articles themselves?  Not happening.

Disrupting The Business Model

It’s a beautiful technology, I absolutely adore it.  But I can see where it and other applications of its ilk have the potential to be very disruptive.  That doesn’t make something bad or good by default, it just means it has a large impact on a pre-existing set of structures like business models…and in this case it would impact a great deal of them.  From Twitters own business model (what there is of one), to bloggers, to brands and their marketers, to that of the consumer experience. Have you used Flipboard?  Would love your thoughts in the comments below.  If you only used a product like Flipboard, or used it the majority of the time for accessing Twitter and/or Facebook what types of behaviors would change?]]>

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