Flipboard, one of the iPad‘s defining applications, is built atop a simple premise: the stuff your friends and other citizens of the web create and collect is interesting and deserves to be presented in a beautiful, browsable form, with big photos and slick typography. That’s why the app, which is also available for the iPhone and Android, calls itself a “social magazine.”
But what if the beautiful, browsable content consisted of items which you picked by hand to share with the world?
That’s the biggest new idea in Flipboard 2.0, which the company is releasing tonight. Probably the most significant Flipboard update so far, it lets you create personalized sections — magazines-within-the-social-magazine — on any topic, populated with interesting items you can add on the fly as you come across them within Flipboard or in your browser. Unless you mark a magazine as private, it’ll show up in other Flipboard users’ search results, letting them find and follow your creations. It allows everybody who uses Flipboard to help edit Flipboard.
It’s impossible to not compare this new feature to Pinterest, the red-hot, much-imitated service for dead-simple collecting and sharing of items from all over the web. But bringing up Pinterest is dangerous, since it might suggest that Flipboard has joined the crowd of apps and services which basically knock off Pinterest’s endless-scrolling-screen-of-tiles interface. Nope: Flipboard still looks like Flipboard, with the addictive page-flipping interface which looks both like a dead-tree magazine and like nothing else you’ve seen before.
(Actually, Flipboard is even a bit more Flipboardy than before: This new version has been souped up so you can rifle through content faster than ever, even turning a page before the last page has flopped into place.)
The make-your-own-magazine capability couldn’t be much simpler. Every item in Flipboard now has a plus sign; tap it, and you can choose which one of your magazines you want to add the item to (or create a new magazine). On the web, you use a “Flip It” bookmarklet in your bookmark bar to accomplish the same thing.
In about five minutes, I compiled a magazine on the fabled Blackwing 602 pencil. As with everything in Flipboard, the app chose a photo for the cover page (which I could optionally override) and laid out the interior pages; the most recent items I added always appeared first, so anyone who perused the magazine would see them.
It’s easy to come up with ideas for making this magazine-constructing tool more powerful — for instance, it might let you add feeds as well as individual items, so a magazine would update itself even if you ignored it. (Right now, a magazine stays frozen in time unless you update it.) Mike McCue, Flipboard’s co-founder and CEO, told me that the company is considering such features. It’s also working on a web-based, pro-level editor — which won’t be available to all users, at least at first — for manually rearranging the articles in a magazine.
As with anything involving user-generated content, the magazine-making feature will only matter if it captures the imagination of a meaningful percentage of the Flipboard user base, and keeps on doing so. “I can’t wait to see what the community does with it at large,” McCue told me. “For me it’s reached almost a full-fledged addiction. You know you have an audience so you want to do more of it.”
Flipboard 2.0 also has a completely overhauled search feature: For the first time, you can search not just the names of feeds but also the individual items within feeds, making it feel more like a true search engine. (Results get laid out with the same formatting as other Flipboard feeds.) It adds a new navigational element in the form of occasional sidebars which link to items such as sections related to the one you’re reading. And arts-and-crafts bazaar Etsy joins the other social sites you can browse in Flipboard form, from Facebook to 500px.
For now, Flipboard 2.0 is for iPad (the version I tried in sneak-peek form) and iPhone only. (Sorry, Android folk: an update for you is in the works.) If you’re already a Flipboard fan, I think you’re going to love 2.0; if you’ve never tried it, now’s an excellent time to give it a look-see.