So much for mobile only: Flipboard heads to the desktop

Nearly 75 million mobile users have created more than 2 million magazines, and now the the company wants to bring its flips to the Web. CEO Mike McCue recalls a time when Flipboard was just a cardboard cutout of an iPad.

The new Flipboard for the Web. Flipboard

A Web-based version of Flipboard goes live on Tuesday, bringing the flipping motion loved by millions of users to the desktop and beyond.

The new app means anyone can view, share and "flip" Flipboard magazine content online, a vision that's much closer to the company's beginnings, according to founder Mike McCue.

"Being able to take all that and bring it to the desktop and go back to our earliest roots is kind of cool," he said as he showed off the sleek new Web app, which looks remarkably like Flipboard's existing mobile apps.

Thinking of the desktop as Flipboard's first choice for a platform is a novel idea now, given the company's reputation for taking a huge bet on the iPad in the company's early days. McCue presented the app to investors using a slideshow demo because Apple hadn't even released the iPad yet.

But when McCue and co-founder Evan Doll dreamed up Flipboard three years ago, it was originally suppose to be online. The technology just wasn't there yet. McCue said it wouldn't have looked the way he wanted it to, like a nicely laid out magazine you could browse through.

"And then I started hearing these rumors about this tablet from Apple and as the rumors increased, I said we're just going to wait," he said. The team started making cardboard models of what they thought the iPad would look like. They were like empty shells that could be inserted with slides of what Flipboard would look like. When Apple finally did make it's announcement, the Flipboard team watched late Apple CEO Steve Jobs's speech intently.

"While he was talking about it, we were downloading the SDK (developers tools)," McCue said.

Flipboard co-founder and CEO Mike McCue. James Martin/CNET

Since then, the app's user base has grown quickly and it continues to pick up steam. In the last two months, Flipboard went from 56 million users and 1 million magazines in May to 75 million users and 2 million magazines, according to the company.

It continues to inch toward a mainstream audience. In addition to recently adding some high-profile political figures to its users (former Vice President Al Gore, Speaker of the House John Boehner and California's Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom are all magazine creators), the company also announced the launch of a new initiative on Tuesday. It's paring with 20 nonprofits to curate a new "Big Ideas" section within Flipboard that highlight different causes. Android curators can even add an Internet favorite to their magazines -- animated gifs.

Flipboard wants to help the media industry transition from print to digital. The company, which works with publishers to put original content on Flipboard along with inserted advertisements, thinks it can help the print journalism industry make money again. Publishers are allowed to place 4 to 5 ads per section per month, and the ads have an average click through rate of 3 to 4 percent, according to Flipboard. The company takes a cut of the money publishers make off ads.

"It's about preserving and enabling great content to happen...It has to be great, it has to be fast, and it has to be social." McCue said. "But also it has to monetize."

And while Flipboard magazine creators can't charge magazine subscriptions right currently, McCue said that feature is one the company is considering. And users want others to read their content; two-thirds of the magazine are public.

The new desktop experience goes a long way in bringing curated content to a larger audience. It will work on the most recent versions of various browsers, including Internet Explorer 9, Safari, Chrome and Firefox, and can be read in 11 languages.

The new site isn't complete yet. In order to create an account or connect to social media sites, users will still have to download the app. Flipboad plans to have the full slate of features available by early next year. But, it's a nice start. Flipboard was careful to recreate the same visual experience while also taking advantage of some Web-based features, like having a fluid design. This means when a user resizes a browser's window, the content resizes with it. This makes it an ideal app for any device -- PC or smartphone. There's also a scrubber at the bottom of the page that will let you quickly zoom through content, and you have the option of using the trackpad, keyboard arrows or mouse clickwheel to flip through the pages.

"This is really the beginning of something absolutely huge for us. We really think it's important that we make these Flipboard magazines available, whether they they have a mobile device or not," McCue said.

 

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