A case of being too successful…

NYTimes article

Flipboard is having trouble keeping up with demand. I guess watershed moments have that effect. iPhone sold out, iPad sold-out, even the Kindle had major delays. Now a virtual product can’t keep up with demand. Here is the article from the New York Times. Read between the lines.

August 4, 2010, 10:04 am

Flipboard Stumbles in Its First Days


Flipboard for the iPad
Flipboard screenshot

Flipboard is a start-up that makes an iPad app that turns social media feeds into an attractive, printlike magazine. It is also an example of the challenges of introducing a new Web product, particularly in the era of Twitter.

After Flipboard was announced in the press (including on this blog) with rave reviews, it was flooded with people signing up. The result: a product that did not work.

The problem has partly been a technical one. Flipboard was not prepared for the interest from users, said Mike McCue, its co-founder and chief executive, in a recent interview. Flipboard, which uses Amazon Web Services, has been doubling its server capacity each day. The company would not reveal how many people have signed up for the service, but said it is a good percentage of iPad owners, of which there are more than 3.3 million.

When Flipboard was introduced, people got error messages when they tried to link their Facebook and Twitter accounts to Flipboard and, the next day, Flipboard started a rolling invitation list to manage the demand.

Then, a week later, some people who had signed up received an e-mail inviting them in, only to be shut down again. Flipboard sent a follow-up e-mail that said, “We just sent you an e-mail telling you that we were ready for you to set up your Facebook and Twitter accounts. We are sorry to say that our e-mail system sent the wrong e-mail.”

One person on the Flipboard waiting list said the experience was as if the much-hyped movie “Inception” had received rave reviews and then opened only in theaters in Florida.

But the bigger lesson learned, Mr. McCue said, was how much Twitter has changed the game of public relations and introducing a new company since 1999, when he co-founded his previous company, Tellme, which was acquired by Microsoft.

As we have written about in The Times, introducing a start-up is no longer just about briefing the right reporters. It is also about ensuring that influential people, not just journalists, spread the message on Twitter and other social networking sites.

In that sense, Flipboard’s public relations machine performed well. In the hours leading up to Flipboard’s release, Twitter was abuzz with anticipation for the product. Ashton Kutcher, the actor, wrote that “the Flipboard app is a must. I am so addicted to this thing.” John Doerr, the venture capitalist, said that Flipboard “is intimate, alive and gorgeous!” Robert Scoble, the tech guru, called it “revolutionary.”

“I’ve learned that the world has changed when it comes to launching a product because of Twitter,” Mr. McCue said. “We knew people would like it, but we didn’t expect this kind of instantaneous, explosive rush to the door, and that would not have happened had it been a world pre-Twitter.”

Flipboard is also using Twitter for customer support. It has seven employees who monitor Twitter around the clock to respond to customer questions and complaints — of which there have been a lot, given Flipboard’s early struggles.

Flipboard has also faced questions about copyright. The service displays photos and the beginning of articles that people link to on Twitter and Facebook.

Mr. McCue said that Flipboard is only showing as much as content providers include on their RSS feeds. If a publication does not include images on its RSS feed, for instance, then Flipboard will not show that publication’s photos. If a publication is concerned about how much information Flipboard is showing, the company will adjust it, he said.

Ultimately, he said, Flipboard wants more people to read the articles that friends link to on social networks, and that they are more likely to do that if they see pictures and text instead of an anonymous bit.ly link.

“The main goal of Flipboard is to cause people to visit the content provider’s Web site, to basically make these links a lot more appealing,” he said.

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