Flipboard 4.0: Welcome to the age of Smart Magazines

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Streamlining your content feed
By Jesse Archer, contributor. 27 April, 2017
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Flipboard’s head of PR Christel van der Boom explains how the news aggregator reinvented itself using AI to drive personalisation and better UX.

At the heart of Flipboard 4.0 is the smart magazine – how did this come about?

We found that when people start following topics they’re most passionate about, such as photography or education or finance, they use Flipboard to pursue their passions. So when we started thinking about the evolution of the experience, we focused on making it easier for people to get to the stories they care about. Smart magazines allow people to deeply personalise Flipboard, making it more meaningful to their work, life or hobbies. For example, it is now possible to select technology with a focus on venture capital, drones or cloud computing. Cooking can be refined to focus on vegan or Indian cuisine. Every person can tailor smart magazines to his or her interests.

What did you learn from past UX incarnations?

We discovered that with thousands of publishers, tens of thousands of topics, and an active community of more than 100 million users monthly, the UX had become too complicated. People were following dozens and sometimes hundreds of individual topics, publishers and magazines. Content from all these sections would end up in users’ Cover Stories, which is our version of a newsfeed. Over time that made it hard to focus on one topic you might be interested in at a given moment. So with Flipboard 4.0, we wanted to give long-time readers who follow lots of content a more streamlined experience and make it easy for new users to dive right into their passions with minimal setup.

Where does artificial intelligence come into the process?

Once you’ve set up your smart magazines, they’re continually updating collections of content. We’re using our most sophisticated machine learning together with editorial and community curation to automatically fill and continually update your smart magazines. We also use machine learning to sort through millions of stories and organise them into tens of thousands of topics that can be added to smart magazines with hashtags. There are also topic hashtags on stories – you can tap on them to follow any individual topic.

We believe great stories move the world forward and discovery of those stories is important.

How do Flipboard smart magazines integrate social media content?

Content from all kinds of social networks is available on Flipboard - you can connect YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook, etc.; and in any smart magazine, users will see stories from Twitter. Our editorial team picked thought leaders on Twitter so the tweets and stories shared are included in relevant smart magazines. Tweets are topically indexed to ensure this, creating a unique blending of manually-curated sources with topically-organised tweets.

What is your approach to content?

We believe great stories move the world forward and discovery of those stories is important. That is why over the years we’ve partnered with some of the best media companies in the world and work hard to ensure stories from all viewpoints are surfaced to our readers.

How are you troubleshooting issues such as fake news?

Our news editor published her thoughts on the topic of "fake news” in the first of a three-part series. Walt Mossberg also summarised this well in his Flipboard review: "Should you want a politics magazine, Flipboard offers you not only the usual topics, like President Trump, Congress, and the two major parties, but also a ‘conservative POV,’ a ‘liberal POV,’ and to, burst your bubble, something called ‘Left, Right and Centre,’ which is designed to expose you to various points of view. When I added that one, I began to see political stories originating in sources from the left-leaning Guardian to the right-leaning Fox News, and everything in between.”

Do you at Flipboard have a mantra/motto?

We started the company with a big vision: Great stories move the world forward by educating, inspiring, and rallying people around their passions. We believe we can provide a platform for these great stories to thrive and achieve maximum impact in a mobile, social world.

What do you see as the future of content? What can we expect from Flipboard 5.0?

In the year ahead you’ll see us add more immersive experiences throughout the product, with an emphasis on video (check out this recent announcement). In addition, we’ll be building out the community elements of Flipboard so people who are into things such as sailing or feminism can curate together and connect around their passions.

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Jesse has dedicated himself to creating informative and compelling content across multiple industries from film to finance. After doing ten years in New York City, he moved to Sydney where he also volunteers as a North Bondi Surf Lifesaver.