Flipboard failure: Why are reviews ignoring the problems?

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By now you must have heard of Flipboard, the iPad app that re-arranges your social media content into a magazine-like experience. It's been all the rage among tech blogs for the past fews days; definitely the pundits' darling this week. That'd be fine except for one small detail: the app doesn't work.

Now to be fair, it does work for some people, but for many others there's no way to sign into your social networks (Facebook and Twitter for now, it seems) because Flipboard's servers are jammed, and have been jammed since the app launched Tuesday night. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue claims that about half the people who've tried to use the app have gotten in. Maybe that's true but I've found exactly 2 non-journalists that have managed to get their accounts entered into the app (I'm sure more will come to the surface once this blog post is published). Whatever, let's assume half is correct. McCue won't release download numbers so we don't know if half is 5,000 or 1.5 million.

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I'm not really here to criticize Flipboard; it certainly isn't the first application or service that has suffered launch pains. But what I've found really interesting is that very few of the pieces I've seen praising the app have mentioned the problems it is having. That seems to be a crucial bit of the story to just gloss over, doesn't it? GigaOm was the first site to really address the problems earlier today (Thursday) but the app launched Tuesday night and started having problems pretty much immediately. Yet the glowing reviews keep pouring in with nary a mention of the fact that the app only works for, at best, half the people who try it. Something smells a bit fishy.

At least Flipboard themselves are owning up to the issue. In an attempt to address the problem they've released an update to the app. Now when you try to enter your Facebook or Twitter account details, a form pops up asking you for your email address so that you can be entered into a queue. Once your number comes up you'll be sent an invitation. That sounds like a beta release to me. And at the risk of piling on, this new system feels broken, too. I entered my email address and clicked the Continue button and the pop-up form disappeared, but I got no confirmation that I'd been added to any queue. If I try to enter my details again I'm offered that same form a second time, albeit with my email pre-populated. I expected to get some kind of confirmation in my inbox, but several hours later, nothing. And I wonder if the people who didn't bother to update the app are now able to get through the jammed servers. Who knows?

So again, why all the fuss about a broken app? It isn't what you do, it's who you know, that's why. Flipboard has $10.5 million in funding (which is one of the reasons I'm so hard on it...this isn't two guys building a cool app in their spare time) and according to AllThingsDigital the funders include " ...a spate of high-profile investors, such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moscovitz, angel investor Ron Conway, actor Ashton Kutcher, and the investment company of former News Corp. exec Peter Chernin." Add to that the fact that ex-iPhone engineer Evan Doll is a co-founder of the company and you know all the internet super-egos are going to be either pillorying or fawning over the first product the company releases. In this case they went with fawning.

It's a little gross, in my opinion. I'm calling out tech journalists to base their reviews of products on how those products perform for the average consumer, not how they perform during press previews, and not based on how many brownie points you want to make with the people attached to the project. As to Flipboard, I wouldn't worry about downloading it until these glitches are ironed out and the app actually works for the majority of people who try to use it. If, once it works, it's even half as good as the early reviews claim it is, it'll be something pretty special.

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