Flipboard CEO: 3.5 M Downloads, 550M Monthly Flips -- And Counting


Everyone in the mobile industry seems to love the iPad wunderkind Flipboard for its forward-leaning approach to interface, eagerness to partner with media and advertisers, and brilliant, socially driven aggregation. So how is it really playing with the civilians?

Well, while app download numbers are suspicious out of hand, the company revealed at this week's TechCrunch Disrupt that the app has been downloaded 3.5 million times thus far, which is up another million from just the end of June. More important to CEO Mike McCue however, is the 550 million "flips" the app now generates a month, he said while speaking at the conference. A flip is something like a pageview, we guess, in that it open a new screen of aggregated articles. But a flip is not an ad impression metric because generally Flipboard is integrating ad experiences within its branded media partnerships with the likes of Oprah and Conde Nast.

In fact, McCue appears to be in search of better metrics to account for the levels of engagement he is seeing with Flipboard. In a backstage interview with McCue after his stage appearance, he discussed in greater depth how the company is struggling to get beyond the web's legacy ad economics of "just trying to generate more page views to put more ads in front of users." The flip metric is about engagement and how people navigate the app. He refers to the iPad's "fresh start," in which we can focus on amount of time spent per article. He is looking for information about whether people finished articles or whether they liked articles. I might call it a "satisfaction metric," where fewer flips and greater time spent might be an indication of a deeper experience that translates to ad effectiveness. 

As McCue readily admits, Flipboard may be an innovation but it is at heart "retro." "The traditional magazine print model was actually a great model," he said. There's he full-page ad, the deep involvement for extended periods of time with content - all produced an effect that in many ways the Web helped break with clutter, page lag, and low, low hang times.   

Flipboard will be evolving, McCue assures us, with an iPhone version on deck and greater content filtering to separate signal from noise.

Flipboard has some real competition. Much as I like the experience of the app, I find myself veering more towards Zite in my evening tablet crawl. Flipboard definitely has the interface and page experience down cold in ways others don't. But personally I find that Zite's sophisticated personalization engine delivers more relevant content. Meanwhile, AOL's Edition had a recent revision that reduces (but doesn't eliminate ) the stultifying load times. Their less-is-more approach, with daily content drops and limited content per section, takes some getting used to. But I have to admit it has been pretty good about finding content that interest me.  

Flipboard is only a frontrunner in a race that is just starting. It remains to be seen if an aggregator can build its own brand loyalty based more on technology than on voice or exclusive content.  Flipboard is "retro" as well in the way it is playing an old portal game of trying to bolt users to it via partnerships with third-party media brands like magazines. I like Flipboard as much as the next iPad-oholic. But I am straying, and have to wonder how much user loyalty is built on this model in an age of hyperdistributon? Is aggregation a defensible position?
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