Flipboard could gently challenge your intellectual comfort zone

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By now, you've probably heard about the prominent but troubled launch of an iPad app called Flipboard.

Beautifully and simply designed, Flipboard presents the photos, news, blog posts and updates your social media contacts on Twitter and Facebook are sharing – along with a curated selection of updates from a number of sources such as GOOD and GigaOM.

Immediately bathed in glowing reviews from the likes of Robert Scoble and many others, Flipboard was the must-have app last week. And as soon as it was available, Flipboard's servers were flooded with requests to connect users' Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Flipboard couldn't keep up. Instead of the promised glossy-magazine-like experience, users received error messages. A chastened Flipboard CEO published an apology. An updated version of the app started taking names on a waiting list for Twitter and Facebook integration. And a number of people started muttering under their breath (or in their blogs) about Flipboard stumbling out of the gate.

Now, underestimating the demand on your servers and failing to have a contingency plan are both serious mistakes.

But I'm prepared to cut Flipboard a few kilometres of slack. Because I'm excited - really, genuinely excited - about the potential of what they're up to.

And it's not for the reasons you've probably heard, like the way Flipboard brings print-design beauty and elegance to online media (although may I just say "wow")... or the way it cuts through the noise of activity streams to bring you nothing but signal (I'm not sure how much I buy that second one, come to think of it).

What I really like about Flipboard is how it may push back gently across the boundaries of our comfort zones.

Remember what Nicholas Negroponte famously referred to as the "Daily Me"? It was the idea that consumers can now filter our news to just those things that truly interest us. The fear, of course, is that we end up restricting our information diet to those stories, facts and ideas that reinforce our beliefs, and filter out anything that could challenge our worldviews. (Well, I call it a fear. Fox News calls it a business model.)


Filtering doesn't have to happen because of an active aversion to certain topics, by the way. Often we just never think to look at the latest news on food security and urban chickens, or about how sleep patterns can affect mood, or what the military junta in Burma is up to. Either way, the filters that digital technology help us to erect can also keep us from the learning and growth that come from being challenged; they act as a barrier to serendipity.


One of the ways information can bypass those filters is when it's carried through our social networks. I might try to avoid hearing word of, say, human rights abuses in the manufacture of my favourite gadgets, in which case I'd probably avoid subscribing to news sources that are likely to carry that kind of thing.

But that news might still slip through because someone I've followed on Twitter because we've swapped cartooning tips does follow those news sources, and shares an article.

Chances are good, though, that I'm still not going to see it, because of the sheer volume of links being tweeted, liked and otherwise shared on any given day. Especially if all I see is a short headline and a shortened URL.

But show me an intriguing excerpt and an accompanying photo, and I might be drawn in despite my initial reservations (the fact that the article comes with my fellow cartoonist's recommendation doesn't hurt, either). And depending on Flipboard's algorithm for sharing links, that could be exactly what happens: the occasional something that broadens - or at least nudges - my horizons.

I won't know, of course, until my name rises to the top of my waiting list. But I'm willing to wait patiently.

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tdaonp says

August 31, 2010 - 7:18am

Will apps replace the web browser? Will it be the end of quality content on the web? A difficult question to answer I think.


- Henk

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