SiliconFilter

Flipboard’s CEO Mike McCue: We’re Now on 10% of All iPads, No Android Version in the Works Yet

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During a conversation with Loic Le Meur at the annual LeWeb conference in Paris today, Flipboard‘s highly energetic founder and CEO Mike McCue talked about the origins of his company and why there is no Android version of Flipboard yet. The company’s CEO also noted that his app is already on about 10% of all iPads. With the launch of Flipboard’s iPhone app today, chances are it will be on quite a few iPhones soon as well.

During his presentations, McCue took some time to demo the new Flipboard iPhone app. He specifically focused on the one new feature the iPhone version introduced: Cover Stories. With this, users can easily get a quick overview of all the top stories around the categories they subscribe to.

Origins of Flipboard

McCue, who was at Netscape in the mid-90s, talked about how he watched the web evolve in the early years and how he wondered why the web never quite looked as well as print magazines. Then, as social media started to become popular and as the iPad arrived on the scene, his vision for a magazine-like view of the web became possible. Having raised $60 million so far, the company decided to bet on the tablet platform early. For now, though, McCue noted, the company doesn’t have significant revenue. Instead, Flipboard’s focus for now is on building great apps and expanding internationally.

Android?

Asked why Flipboard hasn’t launched on Android yet, McCue argued that there are simply not enough Android tablets yet. He also wants to ensure that his apps are as high-quality as possible, which, in his view, is only possible as long as the developers remain focused. He did, however, leave the possibility of an Android app open for the future. Development of the Android app hasn’t started yet, though.



11:09 am


Improving Social Search by Getting Opinions About Opinions

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When it comes to social search and social recommendations, there is a lot of hype around the concept, but given that a user’s social graph is – almost by default – limited, there are major gaps in both accuracy and coverage when it comes to putting this concept into reality. While Google +1 and Bing’s implementation of Facebook ‘like’ data are trying to find ways around this, Microsoft researcher Mohammad Raza argues (PDF) that we need a smarter recommendation system that is based on the idea that “your friends know you and can best predict your taste” and that social search can be greatly improved upon with the help of prediction extraction.

Note: you can download Raza’s paper here.

Flaws in Today’s Social Search Schemes

To understand why this matters, let’s look at how most of today’s social search and recommendation systems work. As Raza points out, the two main ideas behind social search today are that “your friends are like you” and “people we agree on certain things also agree on others.” In reality, though, individuals and communities are far more complex than this. Users may agree with friends on some things (pizza), but disagree on others (politics). While Razza doesn’t go into this, it’s also worth noting that the idea of “friendship” on social networks has become so diluted that many of you “friends” today have little to none in common with you.

Then, there’s the problem of coverage. Users generally only talk about and rate items when they have a strong positive or negative opinion about something. “Part of the difficulty,” writes Raza, “is to motivate people to give more feedback on more mundane items, or items that may be important to different people under different circumstances.”

How to Fix This?

Raza argues that we can past these problems by getting users’ opinions about others’ opinions. Even if your friends don’t agree with you about everything, they are, says Raza, “actually the people who know you best” (his emphasis). The idea the, is to “elicit predictions about the target user’s opinion of a certain item from the user’s friends who have experienced the item, and aggregate these predictions to construct an estimation of the target user’s opinion of the item before he has experienced it.”

Raza proposes to use a Facebook app that allows users to rate items they have experiences (movies, news, events, food, YouTube videos etc.). The unique twist here is that this app will also ask users to predict how one or more of their friends would rate this item.

Once a user then actually experiences this item (say a YouTube video) and rates it, this score will be used to train the algorithm and the software can learn which of your friends know you best and take their ratings into account when presenting you search results or other recommendations. Of course, the algorithm will also learn if your friends are good at predicting anybody’s reaction in general or if they are just good at predicting your reaction in certain areas.

Raza also proposes to push this system even further by allowing users to give reasons why they think a friend would like an item and elaborate on their opinions. Say your friend thinks you will like the movie “Inception” because it has Leonardo DiCaprio in it or because large parts of it play in Paris. The algorithm will then know that these are things you like (assuming your friend has been classified as trustworthy) and can tweak its recommendations accordingly.

For now, of course, there are no public implementations of this idea, but it does sound intriguing. In my experience, I find myself drawn more to purely algorithmic recommendation systems like my6sense and Zite than social apps like Flipboard and News.me because they have come to know my tastes better than my wide-flung group of friends on Facebook and Twitter. Chances are, though, if these social recommendation algorithms knew which friends to trust and who knows me best, this hybrid system that pulls in a far wider range of signals could present me with better recommendations than either system alone ever could.



9:27 am


News.meh

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News.me, an iPad-only news aggregator that was developed by Bit.ly developers Betaworks (in collaboration with the New York Times) made its debut in Apple’s app store today (iTunes link). The app presents you with a list of stories your friends on Twitter and select influencers chosen by the News.me editorial staff are reading. With the help of the data collected by Bit.ly, the feed is filtered according to how many times an article has been shared and clicked on. To use the app beyond the one-week trial period, users will have to pay $0.99 per week or $34.99 for a one-year subscription.

Among media pundits, News.me’s business model of redistributing the money it makes from subscriptions to the news outlets it has partnered with has been the main focus of attention. The majority of users couldn’t care less about this, though, and the app will have to justify its existence by offering an experience that users will actually want to pay for. As it stands right now, I don’t think I’ll pay for the service – especially given that Zite and Flipboard currently offer a superior experience for free.

newsmeh_large

Less About News.me – More About News.what-others-are-reading

In theory, the idea behind News.me is quite interesting. It allows you to see what others on Twitter are reading and highlights the best of these stories by using a PageRank-like algorithm based on Bit.ly’s massive trove of data. Because of this, though, News.me feels like it’s less about giving you a great personalized reading experience as it is about giving you a semi-voyeuristic view into the stories that stream through other users’ Twitter streams.

Sadly, you can only follow those Twitter users who are also subscribed to the service – making it substantially less useful than an app like Zite and Flipboard where no such restrictions exist. You also can’t vote content up or down – meaning that the personalization doesn’t extent much beyond looking at the “best” stuff that’s streaming through a given users’ Twitter channels. While apps like Zite or the Google Reader-based My6Sense iPhone app, News.me doesn’t learn anything from my reading behavior.

The reason News.me just isn’t that useful to me, even though the design is nice and I like the business model, is that when I’m browsing news, I want to browse by categories and topics. I don’t want to have to wade through a semi-random list of stories – many of which show up in multiple streams and hence make this service even less interesting.

Verdict

As it stands now, I don’t see a good reason for paying for News.me. The experience isn’t up to par with what other services offer for free and I’m not sold on the concept behind it. Want a personalized news experience on the iPad? Download Zite and Flipboard instead. Or, on the web, try Trove, which looks at stories shared by your Facebook friends.



1:06 pm


NewsMix: Flipboard Gets a Worthy Competitor

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Flipboard, the personal magazine app for the iPad is probably one of the most hyped mobile app in recent memory, but even though it has lots of dedicated followers, I never quite warmed up to its idiosyncrasies. The idea of a personalized magazine-style app for the iPad, however, is more than intriguing and with NewsMix, Sobees is sending a new app ($2.99, iTunes link) into the race today that has the potential to beat Flipboard at its own game.

NewsMix gives you a magazine-like view of the articles your Twitter and Facebook friends have shared. You can also add RSS feeds and your Google Reader subscriptions into the mix. The app also offers a video-only and photo-only view of your subscriptions. Of course, you can also share any story, retweet it, share it by email and even send it to your Instapaper queue.

Visually, the Flipboard and NewsMix look similar, with article headlines and images laid out on a grid and a homepage that is organized by categories. Flipboard makes it easier to personalize its homepage, while NewsMix, of course, does away with the cutesy flip animation that gives Flipboard its name and focuses more on the reading experience. The app’s reading pane is straightforward, with a Readability-like view of the story that keeps the focus on the text. The original Twitter or Facebook message that was the source of the link appears at the top of the page. In comparison to Flipboard, that’s quite a relief, as that app’s reading pane can feel rather busy.

By default, NewsMix features a standard set of newspaper-like categories on its homepage (technology, health, culture, politics etc.). While you can add your own RSS feeds to the app, you can’t set up a category just for a certain set of feeds. Instead, these get organized into whatever category NewsMix thinks is best for them. To me, that’s the major downfall of the app so far.

What I like about the app is that it doesn’t waste time and space on showing me single tweets without links as Flipboard often does. Unlike Flipboard, NewsMix doesn’t learn what you are most interested in. Instead, it just shows you links in mostly chronological order.

Overall, I prefer using NewsMix over Flipboard. The app feels faster and less cluttered. If you are a Flipboard fan, give NewsMix a try and let us know what you think.



3:46 pm