Flipboard's iPad Web-zine flops under weight of its own hype
A nifty new iPad application called Flipboard has gone from fascination to mockery at startup speed.
This free program, which lets you read Web stories and content shared on Twitter and Facebook in a magazine-style layout, earned a first round of assessments Wednesday that were remarkably positive -- even for something featuring the winning buzzword-bingo combination of "iPad," "social media" and "e-reader."
The Wall Street Journal's Katherine Boehret, for example, wrote that after two months of using early versions of Flipboard on Apple's tablet computer, she found it a "a beautiful, visual way" to keep up with the Web. On Twitter, Flipboard had no bigger fan than veteran tech evangelist Robert Scoble, who posted at least 28 tweets early Wednesday about the app.
I was not invited to try Flipboard in advance, so I fired up a review iPad, downloaded the program and endeavored to suppress my "anything this hyped must be overrated" gag reflex.
Well, Flipboard really is a beautiful piece of work. Its intuitive, paper-inspired interface -- if you swipe a finger slowly enough while turning one of its onscreen pages, you can see some of the previous and the next page at once -- allows for calm, uninterrupted reading. And its thoughtfully pre-made news sections -- covering such topics as technology, art, sports and cooking -- feature a rich variety of sources.
But once I tried customizing Flipboard beyond its default, curated sections, I saw a less appealing side of the app: A server setup that could not handle user demand hours into the program's public existence.
An attempt to add a new section, for example, yielded this error: "Can't Create Section: Please check your Internet connection and try again." And while I could add my own Twitter account, my attempt to connect my Facebook account to Flipboard led to the error in the screengrab at left -- and a day later, it still does.
(Beyond those sections curated by Flipboard staff, you can only add sources that have Twitter feeds; RSS feeds won't do.)
Other Flipboard users took to the Palo Alto, Calif., company's tech-support forum to register the same complaint: "Flipboard is over capacity."
Late yesterday, a company rep announced there that the firm would set up a wait-list system for connecting Facebook and Twitter accounts. But that, in turn, will have to wait until Apple approves a 1.0.1 update to the Flipboard app.
What about Android smartphones or other mobile devices? Flipboard publicist Marci McCue wrote that while the iPad provides a "truly unique experience," the company expected to expand to "new platforms, the iPhone and new tablet devices."
Meanwhile, you can only wonder how a firm with Flipboard's credentials could have botched its launch so badly. Its news release touts the experience of its co-founders (Mike McCue launched Tellme Networks, an interactive phone-information service that Microsoft bought for $800 million, while Evan Doll worked as a senior iPhone engineer at Apple) and brags about its investors (including famed Silicon Valley venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as actor Ashton Kutcher).
But you know, this is not the first time a highly touted tech venture has gotten caught in the gears of its own marketing machinery. Those of us whose geographical distance from the Left Coast's tech hotbeds leads to the occasional comment about our relative backwardness can enjoy a moment of schadenfreude now.
After that, I would imagine there is an interesting story to be written about how Flipboard got into this mess and how -- let's be optimistic -- it worked its way out of trouble. I know I would enjoy reading such an article. In the Flipboard app.
July 22, 2010; 12:47 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , E-books , Gadgets
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