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It’s not like I’m on the cutting edge in recommending this to you. Lots of people are already talking about it. I gave up being cutting edge a few years back. But if you have an iPad, you really should check out the free app Flipboard.

Page Two of Three on my Flipboard

Here’s what it does, in case you haven’t heard: it goes and retrieves all the articles, videos, photos, etc., that your friends have linked to on Facebook and Twitter, and arranges them into a nice magazine-style presentation for you to read.

When I first heard about it, I thought, “Oh, an Instapaper clone,” but no. Instapaper is more like a standard RSS aggregator: I have to pick and choose stuff that goes into it.

The key to Flipboard’s usefulness, to me, anyway, is that it subtly takes control away from me, while still keeping itself within striking range of my most personal interests.

Normally, I have to charge my own course on the web. Every single thing I’m reading is something that I myself have chosen to have presented to me. Sometimes that’s important. I wouldn’t want to lose that modality. Sometimes, though, it is self-defeating. Generally, in a typical web-browsing session, I start out doing something I’ve got a legitimate interest in (like, say, looking up a recipe for dinner tonight) but end up in stupid memeland pretty quickly, watching a cat throwing itself over and over against a glass wall on YouTube. For, like, seven hours.

That doesn’t happen to me when I’m using Flipboard, because the links that my friends are posting are usually much more meaningful and interesting than the stuff I’d be reading if left to my own devices. They always have been. (I think it’s possible, maybe, that people link to stuff that is actually more interesting than what they, themselves, actually read on the web — but that’s a question for another day). The iPad magazine style presentation makes churning through these long articles, which feels like a chore on a laptop, into a pleasure.

And that it is my social network “friends” who are curating this magazine for me, rather than a group of professional editors, who tend to curate toward an advertising demographic rather than a real person, means that the mass of content I am being fed is closer to my own personal tastes than you’d normally find, but not so close as to never surprise me — which is a balance I’ve been looking for, without realizing it.

All of these articles, and this friend-curation mode, have been available to me all along, but the nice magazine-style shine that Flipboard adds to the experience is exactly what I needed.

Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on the kinds of links your friends put out there. I have a high percentage of “friends” who put out the kind of feeds that link to meaty, deep articles and stories (like @longreads or @parisreview or even @ComicsJournal). I have always signed up for those feeds with the best of intentions. And I have always ended up watching Kamikaze Kitten instead. No more!