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Flipboard May Have an Answer to the Chaos at Twitter

The social reading app, which bills itself as a magazine for the web, is introducing more social features just as Twitter has come under fire.

Flipboard's updated app, with a newly added note button on the top-right of the screen.
Flipboard's new note feature is part of a broader effort to carefully beef up the company's social interactions.
Flipboard

In the nearly two months of chaos since Elon Musk took over as Twitter's new owner and CEO, some longtime users have begun to wonder what platform could one day replace it as a center of the media, sports and political worlds. On Tuesday, the social reading app Flipboard will begin making its case with a new set of features built to shift its focus from reading and sharing articles and links to talking about them too.

The new features will allow people to easily create posts on Flipboard, in addition to sharing links, photos, videos or podcasts. The new pen-on-paper icon button situated on the top right of many Flipboard screens opens to a simple Twitter-like window. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said his team designed it to encourage people to share missives or ask questions of their community, rather than write long articles or blog posts.

"You can't build community without people being able to talk to one another," McCue said in an interview.

That's why, in addition to creating notes, people who participate in Flipboard's topic-based communities will more easily be able to comment on one another's links and notes. McCue said his company's computer programs will also automatically organize comments to highlight those made by your friends, as well as ones deemed to be higher quality. "We're establishing how communities should work in a digital world that's healthy and helpful."

Flipboard's always stood out for its serene design and more friendly aesthetic, highlighting communities of people devoted to topics like hiking, photography and science. Much of that, McCue said, stems from how his team encourages their community to act and what Flipboard's computer programs promote to other users.

Where Twitter, Facebook and Reddit have struggled with how to encourage healthy conversations on their platforms, Flipboard's teams designed their app to prioritize must-reads from publications Flipboard has vetted as responsible and trustworthy. Items like outrage-driven headlines from questionable sites that might bring drama, angry comment threads and other types of engagement, aren't as readily shown to Flipboard users.

"You still have bad actors," McCue added, but they aren't as prevalent because the system is built to deprioritize that behavior. And, he added, the company has "no qualms" about kicking people off the app when they cause too much trouble. "It's not just about the feature set," he said. "It's tone."

So far, the approach appears to be working. Though McCue declined to provide an update on the 145 million monthly users his team counted on the service last year, he did cite data from the analytics company Parse.ly, in which he said Flipboard is tied with Twitter as among the top five traffic referrers on the web.

Each of a user's posts and comments will be available to Google as well, McCue said. As a result, they may start showing up in search results over time, similarly to how posts from Reddit communities or specialized forums do today.

Ultimately, McCue said, he's hoping people will see Flipboard as an alternative to the "town square" analogy of Twitter and Facebook, where people shout whatever they want at anyone who will listen. Flipboard, by comparison, is "like creating a dinner party at your house," he said. "It's remarkable how when you gather in small groups around a topic and interest, and when you set the tone, people by and large are cool."

Flipboard is making the new features will be available for the web Tuesday, and they'll arrive on the company's free mobile apps for iPhones, iPads and Android-powered devices in January.