Flipboard revamps its approach personalized news with new “Smart Magazines”

Flipboard is releasing a big update today, which introduces “Smart Magazines” — a new way for people to find news stories and other content tied to their interests.

CEO Mike McCue said the big goal behind this update was to answer the question, “How can we modernize the notion of magazines?” Like many print magazines, these Smart Magazines are meant help you dive deep in a specific topic, but they also take advantage of opportunities for customization and personalization.

At the same time, McCue described this update as a rethinking of the Flipboard experience for new and existing users. Right now, the main ways to browse Flipboard are to open up the many individual topics and community-created magazines, or to go to the Cover Stories section, where you’ll find a variety of stories pulled together based on your interests.

But McCue said that Flipboard’s enormous range of topics (34,000) and magazines (30 million) can be overwhelming, while Cover Stories mashes everything together, so you can’t focus on the one topic that you might be interested in at a given moment.

“Where do I go if I just want to see photography stuff?” he said. “I might follow 50 different magazines and 12 different topics [that are related to photography], so how do I see it all together? There hasn’t been a good way to do that until now.”

So a Smart Magazine revolves around a broad topic, like technology or cooking or photography or sports. Each magazine starts off with the big stories of the moment, things that hopefully everyone interested in that topic will want to see. Then as you move past the first few pages, you start to see content that’s more tailored to your personal interests — for example, your tech magazine might start out with the same headlines as everyone else, before moving on to articles focused on startups and venture capital.

To help users create these magazines, Flipboard is launching a new one-screen Passion Picker where users can identify the topics they want to follow, then further customize their magazines by adding things like specific publications, YouTube feeds and Twitter hashtags and accounts (tweets from topic experts are included in each magazine). Over time, the magazine should get even smarter based on the stories that you like and add.

McCue said he expects most users to follow just a handful of Smart Magazines — “People are interested in lots of things, but they’re only passionate about a few” — which is why there are only nine slots on the home screen. You can create more than nine Smart Magazines if you want, but then you’ll have to go to the Magazines section of the app to find them.

Beyond this update, I was curious about the role that McCue sees Flipboard serving when more and more of our news consumption is happening through our Facebook and Twitter news feeds.

“I just think that there’s a very large population of people who want to go to a place where there is a collection of stories about the thing that they really care about — not just a random collection of stuff,” McCue said. “I just think that’s a truism.”

He added that after the November election, with its accompanying debates about fake news and filter bubbles, he felt “a renewed sense of purpose.”

“We really think of ourselves as being a platform that is informing and educating and inspiring readers,” he said. “We’re agnostic in terms of the right or the left, but we’re not agnostic in terms of truth or fiction … We don’t create the content, but getting the right mix of stories to people so they can get a sense of perspective on what’s going on, that’s something we take very seriously.”

The new Flipboard is available for both iPhone and Android.