Flipboard

Flipboard has acquired Zite, a competitive service that suggests reading material to its users, from CNN. The personal magazine app-maker plans to add some of Zite’s features to its existing products but will not continue to develop the service as a standalone entity. Zite’s team, with the exception of CEO Mark Johnson, will be joining Flipboard.

Zite CTO Mike Klaas writes on the company’s blog that the two services have been closely linked from the beginning:

Flipboard has been linked with our history since the moment we decided to build a news product. What they were able to accomplish on the barely-capable hardware of the first-gen iPad amazed us and inspired us to build Zite exclusively for the iPad (a decision that seemed crazier then than it would now). When we launched people instantly wondered if we were a “Flipboard killer”, and I’ve had to answer more questions about being in their shadow in the last three years than I care to count.

Flipboard CEO Mike McCue mentions the complementary nature of the services in his blog post announcing the acquisition:

We acquired Zite from CNN to address something we’ve heard from a lot of you: although you can already read thousands of sources from over 20 regions on Flipboard, you want easier and better ways to discover content about the things that matter to you. Adding Zite’s expertise in personalization and recommendations to Flipboard’s product experience and powerful curator community will create an unparalleled personal magazine for our millions of readers.

Mark Johnson, Zite’s now-former CEO, explains why he won’t be joining Flipboard in a post on LinkedIn:

I’m really glad that I ignored the odds and shepherded Zite through our CNN years. I’ve grown as a CEO and I’m very proud of my team. However, after being at four different successful startups, I’ve never started one myself and it’s time to change that. Though I’ve got a number of ideas, I haven’t settled on what I’d like to do next. So, I’ve decided to take some time off to think, hike, consult, travel, advise, meet, write, dream, read, study, and – probably most importantly – relax. For me, the best ideas come when I’m not looking for them.

Reactions from around the Web

Re/code’s Peter Kafka notes that Flipboard-style apps haven’t become as popular as many expected:

At one point many people were convinced that Flipboard-style apps, which let readers assemble their own publications by culling links and articles from around the Web, would thrive on the iPad and other tablets. But many efforts, including ones from AOL, Yahoo and Google, have fizzled.

The Verge’s Ellis Hamburger writes that Flipboard might be uniquely positioned to succeed where others have failed:

Flipboard, which generates 2.5 billion page views per month and adds 250,000 new users every day, says that the deal is about both content and technology. Zite’s personalization technology was of particular interest, which customizes content based on each user’s interests. As Flipboard positions itself as the news reading app of the future, owning your social feeds as well as premium news feeds like CNN and Vogue could be the name of the game.

CNN Money reports that Flipboard will be adding CNN’s content to its service:

As part of the deal, Flipboard has also teamed up with CNN to launch custom magazines for CNN shows anchored by Fareed Zakaria, Jake Tapper, and John King. The deal could be valued as high as $60 million over time, taking into account future advertising revenue, said a source familiar with the deal.

Pando weighs in

29th Street Publishing co-founder David Jacobs told Pando last March that calling Flipboard’s apps “magazines” is dangerous:

When we blur the line between blogging or reblogging and publishing a magazine, what we’re doing is we’re further muddying people’s understanding of how much it costs to actually produce great content and what the value of it is, and also people’s understanding of what they lose when they give it away for free.

Pando alum Hamish McKenzie wrote about the battle between Flipboard and Medium, which is really an allegory for native apps versus the Web:

If the mobile Web wins, app stores would lose some of their kingmaking powers, and the user experience wouldn’t be interrupted by instals, download demands, and closed gardens. Updates would no longer be an issue. Clearly, that is the world that Medium – and, by extension, Evan Williams – wants to live in. Medium doesn’t require a lot of computing power. It just serves up text and pictures. But it provides clear proof that mobile reading, at least, is just as pleasurable in the browser as it is in a native app.

Flipboard, with its various mobile apps and after-thought Web app, presents the alternative vision. Certainly, it presents a great reading experience – and, sure, some people will prefer to flip through publications and stories, rather than scroll down them, as Medium suggests. But is a vision that involves a lot of fences to hop over and the twin sacrifices of unity and simplicity.