How to Use Flipboard to Create a Killer DIY Hyperlocal Publication in 5 Minutes

For anyone who owns an iPad, it’s no surprise that Flipboard is a breakthrough. The one-year-old application allows you to instantly turn any news site, social feed, or photo stream into a slick, tablet-optimized, ad-free magazine — a pretty neat parlor trick. Apple selected it as their app of the year and Time listed it as one of their top 50 innovations of 2010. Some people see it as a clever new way to browse their Facebook and Twitter content; others see it as an affront to copyright law; and a few even envision it as the future of publishing. I prefer to think of it as sliced bread.

Not “the best thing since”; but rather, sliced bread itself.

A moment to look at the history of the expression: It was in 1928 that an invention by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, completely turned the bread industry on its head. Until the advent of his innovative bread-slicing machine, nobody had appreciated just how uneven and messy regular old knife-sliced bread really was. And more to the point: no bakers or commercial bakeries up to that point had any idea just how much thinly, evenly sliced bread would increase bread consumption across the county.

That’s how I saw Flipboard for the fist few months: a clever way to turn news and other content into pieces that were both elegantly formatted and easy to digest. Little did I know that, like Rohwedder’s machine, this wasn’t just a parlor trick, but a full-on paradigm change.

One day, while fiddling with the app, I decided to start importing Twitter lists I’d created. I imported a list of users who write about WordPress, which instantly created a spiffy kind of magazine devoted to the blog software. I had another list devoted to the Gannett New Jersey papers I work for — combining accounts @AsburyParkPress, @DailyRecord, @CPSJ — which, when imported, had the interesting effect of creating a kind of statewide magazine (hmm, wheels turning …). Just to test how far I could take this, I hopped over to Twitter and cobbled together a list of some tweeters in my town, Haddonfield, NJ. Just the ones I could remember off the top of my head. The local theater company, the Borough twitter account, the reporter, and weekly publication. It took a minute or so for Flipboard to finish populating the content. And another minute to flip through a dozen pages.

My Haddonfield Twitter List

And then about 10 minutes more for me collect my jaw off the floor.

It’s tough to remember the exact moment that I became enamored with the idea of launching a hyperlocal website — likely at some point between reading the New York Times’s “The Local,” visiting the newly christened, and posting my first pothole to SeeClickFix, I think. But it was this Flipboard moment, when I created a Haddonfield magazine in about 5 minutes, that I realized just how misguided my attempts to build a hyperlocal blog network probably were.

It’s not that the 17 InJersey sites I’d helped create were bad. I still maintain they were awesome. They contained a wealth of local reporting, occasional in-depth stories, and plenty of calendar items and community posts. But, well, the 5-min Flipboard hyperlocal was still better. It looked spectacular, for starters. And it contained precisely the content (and writers) I was interested in following. For months I’d been dreaming of launching a Haddonfield InJersey blog — perhaps authoring it myself. But thanks to a few taps on the iPad screen, I had exactly what I’d been looking for.

A sample page from a Haddonfield Flipboard publication

Not sure whether I’d just gotten lucky at first, I replayed the experiment on several other towns.

Step 1: Go to Twitter, create a list, and make it public. Find users and publications in town, add them to list.

Step 2: Launch Flipboard and click on the “+” space to add content.

Step 3: Select Twitter account from the “Social” list at the top, and find the list just created.

Step 4: Wait 1-2 minutes while Flipboard populates the content.

Step 5: All done. Brand spanking new hyperlocal publication ready to rock.

Without fail, this worked for every location. Watch the video below for a full-on demo. The only real challenge was searching for interesting, regularly updated Twitter accounts, but usually it would take no more than 5 minutes to locate a representative sample. And of course, as new Twitter handles emerged, it took only seconds to add them to the list.

Of course, this whole exercise wasn’t anything more than “aggregating content” — a phrase I find just about as irritating to speak as it is to write. Still, what the Flipboard/Twitter trick offers that’s different from most other aggregation approaches is a simple DIY method to curate your own sources. Unlike the kind of meta curation offered by the Huffington Posts or Silicon Alley Insiders (or even Street Fight), this method allows you to chose as many or as few sources as you like. Love shopping? Add in the tweets from local merchants. Not into high school sports? Leave off the sports team.

Sample page from Collingswood hyperlocal Flipboard pub

So what’s the catch? Oh yeah, that “ad-free” thing. One of the most nettlesome things about Flipboard is the fact that it strips ads out when displaying its neatly formatted version of content. You can still opt to view the original version of a story, ads and all, though in my experience I rarely do this. Flipboard also has their own special ad format, which is built to display full screen inbetween page flips on specially created feeds from high-profile publishers (alas, no hyperlocals on that list yet).

The obvious question for any hyperlocal (or general news) site that makes its money off advertising: If Flipboard is just going to strip my ads, why not just block them from my content completely? OK, bad idea. Before you begin messing with your robots.txt file, remember: Flipboard is just one of many apps seeking to simplify and clean up the digital reading experience. Instapaper, Pulse, and Reeder are just a handful of other apps I use regularly that perform the same kind of add stripping out. Even the latest iteration of Safari has a “Reader” button that strips out ads and other extraneous digital effluvium.

Instead, what you need to do is build your advertisements into special syndicated versions of your content — both published and unpublished RSS feeds. In the next installment of this column, I’ll look at some of the best practices for how to do this, and other ways to watermark your content.

Until then, here’s a demo of how the Flipboard-ification of a hyperlocal Twitter list works:

Ted Mann (@turkeymonkey) is Digital Development Director for Gannett NJ, where he leads the online strategy for six newspapers – the Asbury Park Press, Courier-Post, Daily Record, Courier News, Home News Tribune, and The Daily Journal. In addition founding the hyperlocal blog network and working on the core newspaper websites, he also manages a Daily Deal site that spans six counties and the NJ Best Buys local shopping portals.

  1. Sandy Martin
    July 26, 2011

    I just added all of my Twitter lists to my Flipboard account after reading this, and I love it!  Thanks for the tip.  Flipboard makes Twitter more meaningful every day.

  2. Anonymous
    July 26, 2011

    Hi Ted. Smart idea. Will try it. 

    I’m interested to find out whether can help you refine the concept (disc: I’m the CEO). You’d lose a bit on the automation (but can apply the same logic of inserting local twitter lists as sources + you could add content from any other web sources, blogs, videos based for instance on mentioning the keyword say Haddonfield). But it could be the solution to insert your ads or sponsored content manually with the requested frequency and controlling the exact visibility you want to give it (you can reorder and resize everything that’s published so including ads/sponsored content). Not only should you be able to reinsert them as RSS in Flipboard to read them, but I felt this could be also easier to share as curated magazines are designed for sharing. 

    If you’re interested in experimenting, I’d be happy to send you an invite (we’re still in private beta) and help you promote the results, should you want to publicize them. Email me : Guillaume at

  3. July 26, 2011

    I’m a flipboard addict. I love it.

    I would argue that flipboard has made social curation attractive and accessible to anyone with an iPad.

    I once even used it to help an ad agency pitch at a trade show. The show was all about produce and grocers. The agency had heard over and over that there was no need to use social media tools because “nobody” was doing that in their industry. Of course that was not true, but I needed a way to show it.

    I cobbled together a list of producers and retailers who were doing a great job connecting communities with content and interacting in healthy ways and armed the sales team with iPads and flipboard. Voila! – instant produce-focused magazines featuring competitors and not your brand. Hard to argue with that.

  4. July 31, 2011

    Ted, this is really neat. I tried it out and liked it for specific theams. But here’s one thing. Where I live, in a small town outside a major metro city, the Twitter streams from the big pubs are swamped with news I don’t care about. The hyperlocals are boring and mostly eco the print guys. So I think in a placed like Haddonfield it works great. Not so sure for other places. But will try to  work on it and see what gives. Regarding the ads, totally agree. It’s basically time that publishers figured out ways to put ads into content that can’t be stripped out easily. Blocking the aggregators makes no sense. But forcing them to view your ads makes a ton of sense. In fact, many blogs actually put that as a pre-condition of anyone pulling in their streams (mine included at No one enforces the condition but the types of ads you are referring to would make it a non-issue. Could you point me to some links about that? Thanks!

  5. August 1, 2011

    At, and other Breaking News cities, we’ve been working with to embed a similar newspaper formatting system. Not only for news, but for local foodie, arts and other topical “newspaper” sections.

    Flipboard is great for personal consumption of hyperlocal news. Unlike the personal Flipboard, the project is an online hyperlocal newspaper. If Flipboard provided this functionality, it could be positioned not only as an iPad app, but as a facilitator for online hyperlocal news.

  6. August 1, 2011

    Isn’t just for making Twitter Spam? That’s the only use of either one I’ve seen to date.

    1. August 12, 2011, Flipboard, Twylah are simply newspaper format front ends, so the content needs careful curation. Ted curates with Twitter lists, the simplest social curation tool for aggregating this content. Garbage in, garbage out; most publishers on don’t know what they are curating.

  7. Bonpage1
    September 21, 2011

    Hello, Can anyone please let me know how to convert an existing website for ipad? I am not a coder. Thnks in advance.  Karan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Case Study: Running Deals With a Local Publisher