Flipboard founder: We need more soul in Web content

Mike McCue, Flipboard's founder & CEO, spoke on bringing good design, typography, beauty and white space to Web content.

Laura Locke
Laura Locke is a senior writer for CNET, covering social media, emerging trends, and start-ups. Prior to joining CNET, she contributed extensively to Time and Time.com for much of the past decade.
Laura Locke
3 min read
Flipboard founder & CEO Mike McCue at the Web 2.0 Summit James Martin/CNET

Flipboard founder and CEO Mike McCue devoted his 10-minute Web 2.0 talk this morning to beauty, emotion, and design. Not data, the theme of this year's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

"When you want to create a hit, you've got to be willing to look away from the data," he said. The backdrop for McCue's mini-presentation? A picture of a lipstick red 1957 Jaguar XK SS. McCue referenced the classic car, in part, to demonstrate how something beautiful can elicit a visceral reaction. "It makes you feel good, like the Jaguar," he said.

Good design, typography and even ample amounts of white space form the underpinnings of McCue's latest startup, too: Flipboard, the enormously popular social magazine app for the iPad. To date, Flipboard has seen 550 million monthly "flips" through its content and 3.5 million downloads.

"We put the content first," McCue said. Just as Facebook focused on user growth during its formative years and put monetization second, Flipboard is fixated on getting its core product design right and making sure that its user experience is fantastic before fully exploiting the advertising potential.

So far, he's pretty much on track.

With $60 million in venture funding, the one-year-old Flipboard has rapidly become the touch-tablet app to beat. Competitors include Zite, recently scooped up by CNN for an estimated $20 million, Pulse, Evri and AOL's Editions, which launched in early August. Google is also rumored to be developing its own social-magazine app under the name "Propeller."

Flipboard is social, it streams, and it scales. Readers can literally "flip" through media content page by page as if they were thumbing through a print magazine or a personal journal--except Flipboard is like a living, breathing publication that changes over time. Content is instantly refreshed and curated by you or your friends via social feeds like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

"As an industry, we are good at using data to look at every square inch of the screen and maximize it for clickthrough... but at the same time we have engineered out the soul," McCue said today. "The soul of a website is the content, but it gets narrowed down to a box."

"The future of the web is going to be more like print," he said, with users flipping through digital pages like a magazine. "It has a soul, with the content back front and center of web where it belongs."

On its virtual pages, Flipboard runs full-screen articles and video content from 50 media partners like Wired, The New York Times, CNN, Oprah, and the BBC. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has begun testing out brand advertising with Conde Nast titles. Those ads also run "full-page" on Flipboard, where they fill up the entire screen. "This works," McCue explains, because the content is something you want to look at and interact with. "These ads are far more valuable... than banner ads."

"Emotion defies the data," McCue concluded. However, for Flipboard to defy gravity with its elegant magazine-style tablet interface, it will have to hope that lots of tablet users click on the lovely ads filling up the entire screen. And that those screen-blocking ads don't drive readers away.