Is Flipboard Too Much Fun to Be Useful?

When Flipboard first arrived on the scene earlier this year to much acclaim from iPad (s aapl) lovers, the app was essentially just a browser for Twitter and Facebook. But now the company has introduced support for Google (s goog) Reader feeds, Flickr (s yhoo) photos and other real-time media streams, as it tries to become a one-stop iPad portal for content. Flipboard — whose CEO, Mike McCue, just joined the Twitter board of directors after the social network’s recent funding round — is also working directly with certain media companies to present their content in a custom Flipboard format on the iPad.

I confess that my initial enthusiasm for Flipboard faded somewhat after I used it for a while. Not that it wasn’t an enjoyable way to surf through Twitter and Facebook, because it was — the flip interface makes for a perfect navigation method on the iPad, which is all about touch — but it never seemed important enough to become a crucial part of my day. I have Twitter open on a second screen on my desktop all day long, so browsing through Flipboard seemed repetitive, and browsing through Facebook status updates was nice, but more like a time-waster than something really necessary.

I mentioned this on Twitter at one point, and Mike McCue responded and said the company started with the entertainment aspect first, but was adding new features that would make it more useful. Those features are now here. It effectively replaces a news reader, since it pulls in Google Reader feeds (although I still like the Reeder app for iPad, which has a great design and is very fast), and it adds more granularity when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, with the ability to choose a feed of just status updates from friends, a Twitter list, posts from your Facebook wall, etc.

All of this makes Flipboard a lot more useful. It’s possible I might adopt it as my feed reader of choice, although I’m not sure about that yet. But I wonder whether the flip-style interface for the app isn’t inherently contradictory to using it as a business or work tool; since it seems more like browsing as you flip through pages, does that make less appealing as a serious content consumption or information-intake tool? I don’t really know. Flipboard is also competing in the same arena with Pulse, which many users like as an RSS reader for the iPad (and which recently added support for Facebook feeds).

Flipboard also recently announced content deals with specific media outlets, including All Things Digital (s nws) and the Washington Post (s wpo), which presents content from those sites in a special Flipboard custom theme rather than just sending you to the website when you click an excerpt. There have been some concerns raised in the past about how Flipboard scrapes content from websites and shows excerpts, and whether this is covered by the “fair use” exemption in copyright law, so it’s interesting to see some publishers using it as a secondary distribution channel. Whether others jump on board as well remains to be seen.

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