For those that have had the chance to read content displayed on Flipboard for the iPad, there is almost universal approval of the experience. Yeah there are people that weren’t able to download the app for the first couple of days, and they should have had better error messaging explaining why some Twitter lists and people weren’t able to be followed. But with that said there’s a lot to take note with how an app with content is dynamically choosing, sifting and making layout decision for two different display formats. There’s a number of themes that I haven’t read about yet that I thought I’d mention here. What I won’t be talking about is how an app like this would probably not work outside of an iPad.
Dynamic display vs hand crafted
For those that downloaded a 500mb+ issue of wired, no one would suggest that the design wasn’t great. But the sustainability of downloading something that large, having people hard design for two different layouts and not bring in live content are huge issues. Compare that to the lightweight nature of Flipboard. While the design isn’t perfect there’s enough variety between images, text and tweets that are treated like quotes to keep people interested. There is the ability to bring in current content on a regular basis. They’ve created a system to pull in content that lives as opposed to a huge download that can’t keep up.
Photo formats can change
This isn’t new for developers that code for cropping algorithms but for the common person they kind of take image formats for granted. Basically the program is set up to crop for efficient within the layout. To an image inside a grid the top and bottom might be cropped or vice versa, the width taken in. The code can also try to pin point the focal interest and crop around that area. It isn’t a perfect method but Flipboard is doing a pretty good job. I haven’t come across that many images that seemed really out of place. Sometimes their system is pulling ads which is annoying but has nothing to do with cropping. To pull in the amount of content that Flipboard is doing, and displaying it—a team of designers would not be able to keep up.
Starting with a url and displaying different content
This concept is big to me. I can send out a tweet with a limited number of characters, however if there’s a url included I can display that tweet in a lot of different ways. It’s an amazing use of efficiency to display a lot of stuff.
Questioning of filters—what shows up and what doesn’t
I think people over time are going to start wondering about why some content is showing up, but not all. We have all be used to an editor choosing what we read. It isn’t always obvious why some content is being shown but we don’t think a lot about it. Because the content from Flipboard is very obviously coming from an algorithms, people will question it, and possibly want to be able to change the filtering to better suit their interests. At the end of the day it could be a thumbs down icon that lets the system know what a person doesn’t like reading or viewing.
Timing, what is important and relevant
Another issue is trying to figure out what is the good stuff. It is pretty subjective. Some people like the newest stuff, for other people it is about the source and for others it might be the topic. Flipboard as it currently is, doesn’t really make a distinction. There’s a firehouse with no custom filtering.
Where should stuff go once it is read?
If I’ve already read something or looked at a picture, do I really want to see it again. Maybe, maybe not. At this point the content just refreshes but doesn’t automatically disappear. It’s not a huge issue at this point but if all the content is being streamed via Flipboard’s own servers, it is hard for them to keep everything saved for a long period of time. So if someone wants to keep something, they’ll have to figure out how they want to archive it themselves.