Flipboard: social media where content comes first

Flipboard screen shot
Flipboard offers a content-focused view of social media

Everyone’s talking about Flipboard, the magazine/social media hybrid for the iPad. It looks like this really could point the way forward for consumption of social media, and also be the iPad’s first real killer application.

For me the real story is that it flips (sorry) the social media thing on its head, from a view that’s focused on the people in your network into a view that prioritises the content that those people produce or link to.

That’s a big deal.

Why? Because that’s what social media is all about. Most of the time we’re interested in what the people we connect to have to say, and the content around the web that they recommend.

In other words, the use case for social media is not ‘I wonder what my friends are doing today’ but ‘I wonder what my social graph has got for me to look at’. In this scenario content comes first, not the content creator.

This might seem counter-intuitive in theĀ  social media environment, which is driven by connections. But think about it – your Facebook and Twitter accounts are actually forms of information and entertainment (I need to credit my friend Matt Woods for that insight).

If your close friends really need to communicate with you there are better ways – phone calls and face-to-face being the most obvious. With social media we get a chance to hear what people are thinking, feeling, liking and hating. And that’s content.

The reason that social media is so effective is that some of that content is personally relevant in ways that mass media can’t be, such as your work colleague’s new baby pictures, or news of a friend’s holiday. Plus the media content that’s shared comes with personal endorsement and recommendations from people you trust, ie your network and social graph.

Flipboard takes your uniform stream of Twitter tweets and Facebook updates and applies traditional media hierarchies, prioritising stories that have high engagement and making it easier to see the important stories.

This is particularly useful in Twitter, where shortlink URLs to contentĀ  make it unclear where you’re likely to end up. Twitter has for so long been useful and innovative that we’ve got used to overlooking some of its most obvious user experience problems. Flipboard fixes many of them in one fell swoop.

There are still problems with Flipboard – the algorithms need to improve and display problems create niggles – but it’s clear that this is a game-changer.

And this is just the start. Soon we’ll look back on the way we consumed social media and wonder how we coped pre-Flipboard.