Flipboard: The scale of success
Flipboard, a new app that aggregates social-media content in a slick magazine-like interface, may well be the future of social media on the iPad. It may deserve the blizzard of praise it’s getting today on Twitter. But it also illustrates a trap that app developers fall into all too frequently. Within moments of yesterday’s glowing writeup by tastemaker Robert Scoble, the app was slammed with new users. People attempting to connect their Twitter and Facebook accounts to Flipboard were confronted with a maddening series of error messages. Other content was available, but without the ability to add one’s own Twitter and Facebook data, the thing felt only half baked. For much of the early audience, the first experience of Flipboard was pure frustration.
The problem, of course, was capacity.
Now adding new users in waves. We’ll update you when we’re ready for the next wave, after we deploy new servers tonight
the developers told followers on Twitter late last night. By this morning the message was
Hey all – we’re working on the login problem on Flipboard by creating an invitation system, and letting people in more slowly.
All this raises a couple of questions. Having snuck early access to Scoble, All Things D’s Katie Boehret and a handful of other influential writers — Scoble was muttering about something new and “revolutionary” as early as last week — why didn’t the dev team anticipate a rush of early users once the embargo was lifted and scale up accordingly? Why didn’t they over-commit to server resources and scale back after launch if necessary? (Money wasn’t an issue: The app launched with $10.5 million in VC money behind it.) And what can they do now to alter the appearance of fecklessness, especially among those early-adopting types who can do so much to evangelize for a new product?
All this is Monday-morning quarterbacking, to be sure. And let me be clear: I can’t wait to try Flipboard. I wish its clever, ambitious dev team all the best. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, the cliché goes. Flipboard’s first impression has been of a potentially great racehorse who’s stumbled out of the gate.
UPDATE: Flipboard has, as promised, been adding capacity today, and I was able to hook my Facebook and Twitter accounts into the app a little while ago. It feels remarkably polished and well thought-out, with loads of smart interface touches. (My favorite: It pre-caches in the background the complete text of any article you’re sampling, so if you choose to pop out to the full Web version, it loads instantaneously.Very smart.) It turns out, though, that — for me — the ability to view one’s own feeds is its least useful feature. It’s true that Flipboard bundles and presents your social-media streams in a compelling alternate way, but it’s still just that — an alternate way. More useful, to my mind, are the pre-populated subject-centric feeds the service provides for you (on tech, design, food, music, and many other topics). They’re only Twitter lists, really, but if the service is truly aimed at facilitating access to new content shared on social-media sites, this is where it works best — not in its presentation of content which is already easily accessible in other ways. In any event, Flipboard looks like a solid app that’s working its way through a rocky start.