Rating vs. Curating

Today the popular iPad app Flipboard which bills itself as “the world’s first social magazine” released a major update which introduces “the beauty of print, the power of the web.” Heady stuff, to be sure, but as usual— I’m hung up on the m-word. More and more, magazine is being reduced to nothing more than a form factor. It’s pretty fonts and consistent layouts. It’s an empty vessel for — whatever. Don’t get me wrong: I use Flipboard. I love Flipboard. It’s a beautiful aggregator of personally relevant content. It’s brilliant at generating a cohesive package from a variety of channels in ways that are intuitive and enjoyable to consume.

Flipboard is many wonderful things. It is not a magazine.

And the reason, of course, is curation. I know, I know. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger buzzword and it’s easy to disparage the term itself because of its overuse, but the fact remains that it’s the best way to describe what many of the best publishers are doing on the web and on the tablet.

My problem with Flipboard calling itself a magazine stems from the utter lack of curation. Or worse, the notion that curation can be crowd sourced.

Magazine is your friend the gourmet chef. She invites you to a dinner party and your mouth immediately begins to water because you already know the meal will be an immersive, multi-sensory experience. Course after course of surprising, yet ingenious combinations of textures and flavors. Intentionally paired with the perfect wine to complement and draw out the subtleties you would have otherwise missed. A coherent expression flowing from a perceivable point-of-view. It’s edited. Your friend wants feedback to what she’s serving up so her next meal can be even more impressive. She wants you to come back for more.

By comparison, Flipboard is potluck.

The iPad has breathed new life into this whole discussion and opened up a new frontier to publishers — as I’ve mentioned. Some of the brightest folks in the business are thinking and writing about it. Even guys like Khoi Vinh have chimed in. Writing about the web more broadly, Rand Fishkin penned an excellent post on the need for what he calls “benevolent editors” beyond just the algorithm and the crowd. It’s tempting to think of ourselves as little editors making little magazines — wielding our “Like” buttons and retweets. But the truth is that when done well with pacing and insight, a magazine is much more than just a collection of things that have been deemed worthwhile. It takes us on a journey we didn’t even know we wanted to go on. Whether or not our friends care to tag along. There’s Texas and then there’s Texas. The difference?


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