One of the things people do on social networks is share links to things they like.

Take a look at any Facebook wall or Twitter stream and you’re bound to see a ton of little URL-shortened links leading out to content somewhere else on the Web.

Trying to filter and absorb that information can be a real challenge. Separating the links from all the other chit-chat takes time.

Now there’s an app for that. Flipboard is an iPad app that takes your Twitter and Facebook streams as a data source and presents the links in a newspaper-like interface-complete with simulated page turns.

One of the things people do on social networks is share links to things they like.

Take a look at any Facebook wall or Twitter stream and you’re bound to see a ton of little URL-shortened links leading out to content somewhere else on the Web.

Trying to filter and absorb that information can be a real challenge. Separating the links from all the other chit-chat takes time.

Now there’s an app for that. Flipboard is an iPad app that takes your Twitter and Facebook streams as a data source and presents the links in a newspaper-like interface-complete with simulated page turns.

The free app functions like a newspaper where the editorial staff has been replaced by the people you’re connected to on Facebook or Twitter, plus a few custom channels that Flipboard has created.

The basic presentation is very pretty, relying on large images, clean typography and layout to present up to nine customizable channels of content.

Once Flipboard has your Twitter and Facebook authorizations, it presents you with a channel containing all of the links being shared by your Facebook connections and all of the links on your main Twitter feed, plus a few of the custom channels that Flipboard has put together (apparently based on the RSS feeds of popular sites like Hacker News, Huffington Post, The Economist and others).

You can create your own custom channels based either on your own Twitter lists or searching for a specific person and pulling their content in via their Twitter stream. The Twitter list, in this way, becomes the easiest way to pipe disparate sources of content into Flipboard.

While the Flipboard app outdoes the new Twitter iPad app in being able to bring in content from Facebook and also the sources that Flipboard itself curates, it still leaves some room for improvement.

The interface for presenting the links in the channels view is great for scanning headlines and reading initial blurbs.

But once you start diving in to actually read the content it gets to be a tap fest. Tap to get to a slightly longer version of the article, but probably not the whole thing. Then tap again to pull up an in-app Web browser with the full article. When you’re done reading the article in the Web browser, tap to close the browser, then tap to close the slightly longer version.

Another area for improvement has to do with the way Flipboard pulls in content. The implicit promise in a social news app — and that’s definitely what Flipboard is — is that you end up with a news source that is curated by your social connections. Flipboard gets pretty close to this.

But sadly, the links submitted by your own contacts are still organized around which social network you use to connect to those contacts. Flipboard is still focused on following streams, not people. The real promise of third-party social news apps is in recombining everyone’s different streams back into all the content of one person.

For example, say I really want to be aware of the links shared by media futurist Gerd Leonhard and that I’m friends with him on Facebook and on Twitter. For the purpose of this example, let’s assume that Leonhard shares different links on Facebook than he does on Twitter.

With Flipboard, I can make a channel for Leonhard by following just his Twitter handle. But the Facebook stuff comes in only via my generic Facebook channel. …CONTINUED

This separation of one person into two (or more) channels only gets more complicated if you wanted to set up a collection of people to follow. For example, what if I wanted to follow my top five favorite real estate technology thinkers as a channel in Flipboard? I’d have the same problem noted in my Gerd Leonhard example multiplied by five.

This is a problem of the data source and would likely involve a few moments of clever thinking to fix. But the end result would be significantly more useful. Having the ability to set, as a data source, something along the lines of what Gist provides — a gathering of all content from all social networks that a person participates in — would be much much closer to being the promised newspaper that’s edited by your friends.

I should note that I don’t know of another app that solves this problem either (except for Gist, but their presentation doesn’t come close to Flipboard’s and Gist’s use case isn’t so focused on consuming content). You won’t find a prettier content browsing app for iPad, even with the warts mentioned above.

Here are a couple ways to get the most out of Flipboard:

If you don’t make use of Twitter lists, start. It’s the best way to put together the links shared by a group of people that you hand-select. Even if you’re getting only the Twitter-side of the story, it can be useful. Make Twitter lists for:

  • Important industry people who present ideas that make you think.
  • Industry streams that alert you to changes, dates and events.
  • People who are near you geographically.
  • Current and past customers.
  • Technology vendors of products you use.

Another way you can use Flipboard to improve your social media mojo is to use the Facebook or Twitter generic streams to increase your interaction. Flipboard lets you post comments from the Flipboard app. So if, for example, you tend to focus on Facebook over Twitter (or vice versa), then dip into your Twitter generic stream on Flipboard and quickly scan for some useful information and thank whoever shared it. Or provide some conversation about the content that was shared. This particular feature of Flipboard is super helpful for staying social.

An advanced tip for better Flipboarding is to make a workaround for building a custom channel for Flipboard. The fleshed-out version on how to do this could be its own column, so I’m just going to post the basic instructions. If you want more details, let me know in the comments.

If you want to make a truly customized channel on Flipboard that pulls in websites and Twitter feeds, do the following:

1. Set up a Twitter account to aggregate the website feeds for your new channel.

2. Use one of the many RSS-to-Twitter-stream tools to plug all of the RSS feeds into your new Twitter account.

3. On your main Twitter account (the one you had before you started all this) follow your new Twitter account (that you made in step one).

4. If you want to follow individual people’s Twitter feeds in addition to your Web feeds as a single channel in Flipboard, make a Twitter list that includes those people and your new Web feed Twitter account.

5. In Flipboard, set up a channel based on the list you set up in step 4. 

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