With New Product-Curating Feature, Flipboard Lets Anybody Create a Catalog

The social magazine app adds a dash of commerce.

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At first, the “social” part of Flipboard‘s social magazine application consisted of the fact that it turned the content folks shared on networks such as Facebook and Twitter into beautiful, browsable, magazine-like pages. Then the app added a feature that let any user curate and share customized magazines on any topic.

And now the iOS and Android versions of Flipboard are introducing a new sort of social sharing: the ability to create catalog-like listings by bringing products from the web into Flipboard magazines.

The feature uses a new version of Flipboard’s “Flip It” browser button, which lets you pull web content into a Flipboard magazine that can be viewed in the app or on the web. If that content happens to be a product page on an e-commerce site, Flipboard now does its best to parse it as such, bringing the relevant information, such as the price and product photo, into your magazine, along with a link back to the web page. You’ll also be able to flip products you find within Flipboard magazines you read, thereby sharing them with anyone who reads a magazine you curate.

Flipboard is working with some major merchants — including Banana Republic, Birchbox, eBay, Etsy, Fab, Levi’s and Modcloth — who will use the new feature to build both out-and-out product catalogs and publications that meld editorial content with products. It’s implemented a simple shopping cart that will allow Flipboard users to buy products from partners within the app, and it’s invited some celebrity curators — such as Alyssa Milano and chef Daniel Boulud — to share products.

The company won’t get a kickback when people tap through from a listing to buy the product in question; instead, it plans to do advertising deals with merchants to promote their catalogs and other content within Flipboard magazines. It’s an extension of the business model it already has in place via relationships with companies such as Time Inc., which recently announced plans to put TIME and other publications into Flipboard.

The product experience still looks like Flipboard — which is to say that it’s highly polished and smartly reformats text and pictures drawn from outside sources into something that often looks more attractive than it did in the first place. It’s possible, though, that it could lead to a Flipboard that feels more like a direct competitor to Pinterest, a huge social network that got huge by making it easy to curate products.

But Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, who gave me a preview of the new feature, says that the company isn’t trying to duplicate anything else that’s already out there: “We’re not trying to build Pinterest — we’re trying to build the world’s best personal magazine.” If lots of product listings start to show up in the magazines that users create using the app — there are more than 4.5 million of them so far — we’ll know that the idea makes sense to the personal-magazine editors and readers who make up the Flipboard community.