Flipboard Responds to Failed Launch

Flipboard, the new iPad application that formats personal news streams into readable pages, was a hot ticket this week. Quite a bit hotter, it turns out, than the new company of the same name anticipated and prepared for. Since launching late Tuesday, the customizable part of Flipboard has been largely non-functional. Users are supposed to be able to login with their Twitter and Facebook accounts and see personalized, beautiful magazine-like pages dynamically laid out with popular photos and articles linked to by their friends. In their place were error messages and blank pages.

The launch should serve as a lesson to startups. If you’re going to get the press out hyping your new product (full disclosure: it’s hard for people who write not to get excited about cool new ways for people to read things), and announce yourself as a well-pedigreed, well-backed ($10.5 million in funding already!) company, you’d better create contingency plans — for starters, more server capacity, but also a corporate blog.

“For the last 36 hours we have been managing an explosive rush of new users which has clearly been beyond our wildest expectations,” Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said in an email this morning. While he didn’t say how many times the app had been downloaded so far, he said about half of users still don’t have access to the personalized features, and can only browse preset content channels. He said he would soon be posting an apology on the company website.

To better manage demand, Flipboard has developed a new version of the app, which is currently undergoing Apple’s approval process. This version has been tweaked with an invitation feature that allows users to sign up for a spot in line to register their Twitter and Facebook accounts, then get notified when it’s their turn.

The app originally launched to all comers just before 9 p.m. (PT) Tuesday, and the problems began immediately, with people who read my Tuesday night article telling me they couldn’t get the app to work. The company’s first acknowledgment that there was a problem came on its Twitter account on Wednesday morning: “Hey all – we’re working on the login problem on Flipboard by creating an invitation system, and letting people in more slowly.” Then last night it posted about the new invitation system on Get Satisfaction.

One saving grace for Flipboard is there are only about 4 million iPads out there. Just imagine how badly the product might have failed if it were available as a phone app or on the web.

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