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News aggregator Flipboard has a plan to tackle 'fake news'

·Chief Tech Correspondent
Flipboard 4.0
Flipboard 4.0

Flipboard 4.0 focuses on “Smart Magazines” with heavily customized content. Source: Flipboard

Flipboard on Wednesday announced a major update to its news-aggregating app that targets fake news and emphasizes different views from across the political spectrum — ongoing hot-button topics following last year’s US presidential election.

The app update, available for iOS, Android and the web, sports a new, minimalistic layout throughout that now focuses on content that’s heavily personalized for each user by way of what the startup calls “Smart Magazines.” Each Smart Magazine is essentially a digital collection of up-to-date stories pulled from different news sources in a larger theme of your choosing, like sports, politics or celebrity news. It’s also possible to fine tune Smart Magazines’ content to pick and choose from thousands of topics, like say, a technology-themed Smart Magazine that focused on venture capital-backed startups.

But perhaps Flipboard’s two most interesting features have to do with how your news can be curated — two features which were somewhat downplayed when Flipboard previewed the update for Yahoo Finance.

Many Americans complained they were blindsided by November’s presidential election results thanks in part to sources like Facebook (FB), which favored presenting content to users from like-minded friends. Hillary Clinton supporters, for example, were likely to see pro-Hillary Clinton stories in their News Feeds, while Donald Trump supporters likely saw more pro-Trump articles pop up. Meanwhile, fake news — at least fake news in the sense of factually-inaccurate stories — continues to be a concern for many readers now unsure of which stories are true and which outlets are trustworthy.

In the latest update, Flipboard tries tackling both problems with a group of human editors on staff who pick and choose some of the content users will see in their Smart Magazines, along with a “Left, Center, Right” option which Flipboard CEO Mike McCue explained presents different political views from across the spectrum.

Will Flipboard recommend news from so-called “alt-right platform” Breitbart News? No. But chances are much, much higher moving forward you’ll stumble upon stories now with opinions and angles different from yours.

This latest Flipboard update arrives seven years since Mike McCue launched Flipboard for the iPad as a way for people to consume news across the web in a crisp, magazine-like layout. The company has raised well over $200 million from backers including Jack Dorsey, Ron Conway, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

McCue also told Yahoo Finance the number of Flipboard users grew 40% year-over-year to 100 million monthly active users. According to third-party mobile tracking firm App Annie, Flipboard user engagement remains strong, although the firm declined to disclose specific numbers.

“Engagement is particularly impressive since as a news aggregator, Flipboard is competing in a changing news environment against social apps with a large user base that also fulfill a news aggregation function, such as Facebook and Twitter,” the company told Yahoo Finance in a statement.

Meanwhile, the company reached its first profitable quarter in the fourth quarter of last year and expects to hit steady profitability in a year’s time, according to McCue. Flipboard generates revenues mostly from an advertising model that sprinkles ads throughout the content imported from publishers like The New York Times, Vogue and others.

“All companies mature and have to become real companies,” McCue told Yahoo Finance. “For the last couple of years, we’ve been in our awkward teenage years: a little too old to be the new thing, and a little young to be the big, sort of standard thing. Now there are some examples like Snapchat which grew up super fast. They’re almost like the celebrity child star that grew up too fast. We’ll see how they mature. We’re not trying to do growth hacking, put ads everywhere or ramp up the revenue super quickly.”

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent covering the intersection of business and technology.

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