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This article was published on December 26, 2011

Flipboard needs to branch its content out from US/UK, here’s why

Flipboard needs to branch its content out from US/UK, here’s why
Jon Russell
Story by

Jon Russell

Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.

Earlier this month, an eagerly anticipated iPhone app was finally launched as Flipboard took its highly acclaimed iPad app to the phone.

The app has been out for a few weeks and, with the deafening chorus of cheers fading, I’ve found myself shunning its beautiful and innovative design for the simple fact that its content isn’t relevant enough for me.

Compared to Zite, which may not be as aesthetically pleasing, Flipboard comes up wanting on content. Zite is, among others, an app which aggregates content from my social web — Twitter, Google Reader and others — giving it to me in a magazine style layout. Though it lacks the ‘page flipping’ ingenuity of Flipboard, the reading is more varied, which is ultimately what I’m looking for from a social magazine.

There is credit to be given to Flipboard however, as it is addressing the issue by building an editorial team, as its founder told Robert Scoble recently. The company has also started curating content publicly too, with @flipboardtech — curated by former TIME journalist, Josh Quittner — emerging on Twitter to channel relevent news for its followers.

However, as a reader based in Asia, the news is somewhat US/Western-centric for me. While it is true to say that, particularly when talking tech (though I am referring all news genres), the lion’s share of media is US based. But, if I want personalised news, and the chance to discover content, should there be more emphasis on varied sources?

It seems that I’m not the only one thinking this, as Stuart McDonald, the man behind the hugely successful Southeast Asian website TravelFish concurs. Before anyone goes calling Stuart out for over dosing on the sour grapes for not being included, he points out that he is “a small niche publisher, focused on a narrow sliver of the world” and therefore not expecting to have his content in the app.

McDonald makes a very valid point that the launch of Flipboard for the iPhone was an “opportunity for the app is to break out of the echo chamber and expose readers to a broader selection of sources, than the reader would choose for themselves”.

McDonald continues:

As it stands the prepopulated app contains a very heavy US and UK focus. I assume that reflects their user base, but nowhere in the app description does it note the feeds come “curated” to a North American/British flavour.

It seems despite the potential promise of the global magazine store, we’re instead stuck in the US/UK aisle and have to build our own for anywhere else.

While, according to the Travelfish founder, the benefits of being included are little more than brand exposure:

As for publishers in it, I know a few who are baked in and two who I have asked have described the traffic boost from inclusion as “minimal” and “non-existent” but in both cases they’re supplying full feeds, so a substantial pick up isn’t to be expected.

In spite of the critical feedback, McDonald is a fan of Flipboard, but he would like to say a wider effort to include content that is outside the usual sphere of sources:

I like the interface, it’s innovative, fresh and easy to use, but do look forward to a revised selection of feeds that better reflect the wealth of opinions and experiences available online.

I’m optimistic that Flipboard will grow its user generated content as it progresses. The fact that it introduced the cover stories feature, which takes serves content  from users’ social networks through the app, and has an editorial team shows that it is placing value on content. As the app continues to be improved, with cover stories tweaked, there is no doubt that will deliver cover stories  but new content sources are needed too.

Company CEO Mike McCue has pledged to build an entirely local app, with local content, when Flipboard enters China, which leads me to believe that it will diversify its sources, further down the line.

In its current form, though I enjoy using Flipboard, I’m an interested observer rather than an impassioned user.

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