Liz Gannes

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Flipboard CEO Mike McCue Live at Dive Into Mobile

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue has seen the future, and it looks like the past: print magazines. He’s appearing today at D:Dive Into Mobile in conversation with Wall Street Journal columnist Katie Boehret to talk about the Flipboard iPad app that’s giving publishers and readers a glimpse of what digital reading could be.

Disclosure: All Things Digital is part of Flipboard’s new publisher beta.

11:01 am: Personal bio stuff: McCue says he’s a product guy. A friend pointed out to him that this Flipboard is his “fourth browser company”–Paper Software, then Netscape, then TellMe, a voice browser, and Flipboard, a social media browser.

Flipboard is a social magazine. The idea is to bring the aesthetics of print to the world of social media.

When McCue left Microsoft after it bought TellMe, started brainstorming with (Flipboard co-founder) Evan Doll, who was formerly at Apple. HTML5 and the tablet mean “information can take a major step up in terms of how it looks.”

11:05 am: Katie: Isn’t this designed for lurkers? You’re not generating anything on your own.

McCue: This is the first snapshot of our vision, and we didn’t focus on publishing, but rather the lean-back experience that the iPad is great at. We wanted to focus on a new kind of way to consume social media. Our peak hours are between 8 and 11 p.m. People just leave Flipboard on all day and browse through when they have time.

This is not for the power user, says McCue, illustrating by gesturing a set of vertical columns with his hands (the universal hand signal for TweetDeck, I believe).

People post stuff on my Facebook wall that’s amazing, and Flipboard is for when I have time to consume that.

11:08 am: Katie asks about the new Flipboard Pages product for publishers. McCue explains the Web is cluttered, slow, and “the content doesn’t have enough room to breathe.” Wanted to leverage three trends: HMTL5, social media and the iPad. “Now we have the opportunity to present Web sites like magazine pages.”

Instead of going to a Web page when you double-click on an article, you go to a formatted version.

11:12 am: It’s hard to read long articles on the web, McCue says.

11:14 am: McCue: We definitely do not plan to charge for Flipboard itself, but publishers will find value.

Ads in Flipboard are likely to be from the same advertisers as they already have a relationship with, just a different form. We may be able to help them sell more or target the ads they have.

“The Web is at the point in time when I think it needs a game-changer. It needs a face lift. It needs a new approach to monetization.”

Katie: Other sites like Twitter are going toward infinite scrolling, but you like pages.

McCue: In an ideal world, you paginate. It allows designers to build beautiful content because they know what the alignment of that content is going to be.

11:17 am: It’s also better for ads, he says, because a full-page ad doesn’t work on the Web.

Katie: How are you going to bring in lots more publishers?

McCue: It’s going to be HTML5 (so everyone can build for it). We spent about an hour on each template so far. We’ll publish tools and mechanisms for how to do this. Our goal is to open this to the Web at large sometime next year.

Katie: What about non-iPad form factors?

McCue: The iPad is an amazing device, an incredible development environment, and Apple’s been great to work with. From a start-up perspective, you have to first prove out the concept for users (in our case, publishers), and after you’ve gotten that far enough along, then you scale.

11:22 am: We’re working in the lab on other platforms, things like iPhone–not quite Android yet because we’d have to hire Android engineers. You can see the HTMLification of our app coming.

First we’re thinking about integrations with other services, says McCue. You could imagine an integration with Foursquare, with a magazine about where you are at the moment. (Hmm, that sounds neat!)

Katie: You acquired the Ellerdale Project, are you using that now?

McCue: We actually use RSS now for excerpts after getting links from Twitter. It’s publisher-friendly and a way of getting clean excerpt content. Ellerdale helped us put that together. But the real application is dealing with the information overload of social media.

11:26 am: There are literally billions and billions of links on these social networks, and that’s overwhelming.

Katie: I can’t use groups or differentiate between social sources of content in Flipboard.

McCue: That will change soon. We’ll prioritize more important events–like a friend gets engaged–rather than just a chronological order like we do today. That’s a really hard problem, and that’s what the Ellerdale guys have been working on. We’ll show context with your social screen.

11:28 am: Katie: Who’s your competition? Pulse?

McCue: There are traditional news RSS aggregators, and Pulse is an iPad version of those. There are Seesmic and TweetDeck doing iPad versions. Bigger idea is moving from a publisher-centric view to a person-centric view, merging these two ideas.

Audience question: What about other sources of content?

McCue: Video social networks like YouTube and Vimeo would be nice, but we don’t want too many flashing things.

Audience question: Do you have the rights to your content?

McCue: Yes. Looking for win-win-win with publishers, readers, us.

And that’s it for this session

Photos from Dive Into Mobile

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