While the social media revolution is now firmly entrenched in the collective conscience, keeping track of the myriad ways in which information is parsed across these networks can be like trying to count grains of sand at the beach.
However, a killer app that has already erased several complicated information barriers for iPad users could soon reshape the way we consume content across many different platforms – and possibly make networks such as Facebook and Twitter even more relevant than they already are.
Flipboard, voted App of the Year by Apple in 2010, will launch a free version for the iPhone early this summer. And after announcing this week that daily usage of the application has tripled in just two months – it's now up to 9 million “Flips” per day – the Silicon Valley startup could soon decide to make what it calls "the world’s first social magazine" available on other devices, including ones using the ubiquitous Android OS .
Influencing the 'social graph'
The people you’re connected to via your social networks are increasingly becoming curators of the news and information that matter to you most. And what they think, read and follow is all part of a "social graph" that determines the type of information you receive.
The problem is the sheer volume associated with the social graph. Over 1 billion messages are posted every day across Facebook’s social networks alone. The more people you are connected with, the harder it becomes to filter out irrelevant information. And because so many people (and, increasingly, businesses) have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, thousands of followers on Twitter, and follow almost as many on Foursquare, content is repeatedly watered down into a sludge of semi-useless information.
"I think there is a problem of information overloading," Greg Sterling, founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsDaily. "For many people, all the feeds and the sources of information are certainly creating confusion. They feel there is too much going on and it’s happening too quickly to absorb anything that is really tangible."
Speaking of his own experience, Sterling said, "I’m following several hundred people on Twitter now and I’m loath to add more because it becomes too much."
How Flipboard is saving social media
Flipboard’s solution? Take everything that matters to an individual and bring it together in one place based on the person's "social graph" ― fundamentally improving how people discover, view and share content across their social networks, according to Mike McCue, founder and CEO of Flipboard.
"We believe the timeless principles of print can make social media less noisy, more visually compelling and ultimately more mainstream," said McCue.
Designed from the ground up for the iPad, Flipboard creates a digital magazine tailored for each user solely from the user's social content.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company developed a way to take the news feeds that users get from friends on Facebook and Twitter and turn them into a social magazine.
Instead of collecting tiny links tweeted across so many Twitter pages, Flipboard’s algorithm organizes the actual pages of those links and delivers the information with glimpses of the original articles and photos, laid out in much the same manner as an art director would lay out a magazine page.
Social media trends
As far as social media trends go, Flipboard may just be at the top of the bell curve. The idea may sound basic, but Sterling says the implementation of Flipboard's algorithm is likely part of a larger trend to create a new breed of customized content. The result would be a sea change in the media landscape.
Sterling noted that Flipboard is available on a small fraction of devices. “Once it’s on more devices, you’ll see the change,” he said. The number of users is certain to increase dramatically when the company releases Flipboard for the iPhone app.
In a broad sense, said Sterling, social networks already act as an information filter; Flipboard is providing an additional layer to filter out the noise on top.
Just don’t call Flipboard just a smart aggregator of content.
Algorithms tend to be smart (ask Google), and the Flipboard system understands several key factors. For starters, it knows what subjects you tend to tweet and post about, and because it is already familiar with your contacts, it knows what they tweet and post about, too. After taking those factors into consideration, the algorithm measures what is popular at a given moment and then relates all that information back to your network.
There are nine categories on Flipboard. You can customize your "magazine" based on your interests (tech, entertainment, sports, world news, etc.), and the content for these categories will be grabbed from Twitter and Facebook feeds, but it can also be customized to receive other information. Last month the company added the photo-sharing service Instagram as an additional content source.
After experiencing consecutives months of exponential user growth, Flipboard is gearing up for another push that includes a few major initiatives, according to company spokeswoman Christel van der Boom.
In addition to the coming iPhone app, Flipboard is planning to continue to build media partnerships, offering to bring "a new circulation to their Web content, as well as building a new type of print-style advertising inventory for them,” van der Boom said.
“We drive more traffic to content creators,” she added. “Several bloggers have let us know that they see about 20 percent of their traffic coming from Flipboard.”
As for social media outfits like Facebook, they seem to be happy to have Flipboard on board, van der Boom said.
“We talk to them on a regular basis and inform them on where the product is headed and how we use their API,” she said. API refers to an application programming interface.
As far as making money goes, the verdict on the app is still out. Flipboard has raised $50 million in venture funding (its valuation is $200 million) but does not yet generate any money.
The iPhone app just might change that.
Tim Gray is a contributing writer for iPadNewsDaily, and writes about social media and search engine optimization on Blue Fountain Media’s blog.