By Jefferson Graham
LOS ANGELES - Flipboard, the social magazine app for Apple and Android devices, is getting upgraded with tools to search within the app and create personal magazines.
For readers, the move offers a way to have fun with Flipboard content, to make "playlists" of sorts of favorite articles. For newspaper and magazine publishers, however, the new tools give the ability to create instant ad-supported digital magazines without having to pay for printing or postage costs. Some 30 publishers, including USA TODAY, work with Flipboard.
Launched in July 2010 with great fanfare, Flipboard has waited to iron out its visual kinks and amass a large audience before moving to version 2.0. Now it has an audience of 50 million users.
The update initially is for iPhone and iPad users only. Flipboard usage is split evenly between Apple and Android, says the company, which expects to update the Android app shortly.
In the beginning, Flipboard was aimed at "consumption and discovery," says Flipboard co-founder Mike McCue, while the update is about "curation and creation."
After registering with Flipboard and collecting credentials for various social networks, Flipboard pulls in content based on your interests from the networks, offering them in a visual fashion that's wowed critics.
Posts from your friends show up in Flipboard with snazzier graphics than seen in the social networks. In the new version, you can gather various posts and make a personal magazine from them.
"Let's say you're into horseback riding," says McCue. You can collect all the things you love about horses, put it in there, share them, and your friends can comment on it."
It could also be considered a bookmark feature for Flipboard readers. For instance, McCue says he's created a magazine about exotic locales. Every time he comes across a piece about somewhere he hasn't traveled, he puts it into his own bucket list special collection.
McCue decided to add the "make-your-own-magazine" feature in response to the popularity of the curated areas of Flipboard, which are collected by staffers.
For publisher partners, the new features allow them a way to share archival content, publish collections or package stories in a different way.
For instance, Flipboard partnerRolling Stonehas put together a special Flipboard issue featuring everything it has written about The Beatles, and it comes complete with audio clips from the SoundCloud music network.
James Oliver Curry, the online editorial projects manager for Conde Nast'sDetailsmagazine, says the new tools give the magazine "a lot more creative control. Up until now, we've been limited in the ways we can organize our content, and share it with with the world. Now we can curate our own so-called magazines."
IfDetailswanted to push out a magazine devoted to men's suits worn at the Academy Awards, for instance, "I can build a magazine around that, using archived content from my site."
The new app "makes Flipboard more attractive to us. The more control you have over content, the more you can slice and dice it, the better it is for us."
Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, says the Flipboard update shows "where the future will be headed. The opportunity for publishers is they don't have to sell large subscriptions. They can syndicate the content that can be created on the fly."
When Flipboard launched, the two dominant social networks at the time - Facebook and Twitter - were woefully lacking graphics. Newer networks such as Google+ and Instagram fixed that. So is there still as much of a need for Flipboard?
"More so," says McCue. "People use Twitter and Facebook, and Instagram and LinkedIn. There are more social networks coming up all the time. This is the social Web that's developing. There is no product other than Flipboard that pulls all the social networks into one place."
The company is growing fast - it was at 25 million users just seven months ago, but it's still not profitable. "We are starting to generate revenue from our publisher partners," McCue says. "Some have sold out of their ads."
Flipboard launched with $60 million in funding from venture firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Index Ventures and Insight Venture Partners, as well as actor Ashton Kutcher, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and former News Corp. exec Peter Chernin.