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‘Random’ News Reader App Ready to Burst Your Filter Bubble

‘Random’ News Reader App Ready to Burst Your Filter Bubble
Design & Architecture

A content discovery engine that negates discovery engines' over-personalization

Rachel Pincus
  • 10 november 2014

As Eli Parisier’s book The Filter Bubble sadly illustrates, content creators on the web benefit from picking up on topics that are already trending and directing you toward opinions you already agree with. Not only does it make for a less informed general public, but it also is a problem for content creators, creating a small cadre of “superstar” topics that are difficult to get past. Even if your loyalty is more to certain publications than to certain topics, you are undoubtedly likely to see a lot of repetitive reposts with a typical news reader. Unless, of course, you make a conscious effort to expand your horizons. Enter Random, formerly known as Futureful, an app developed by designer Jarno Mikael Koponen to break filter bubbles.

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Instead of a scrolling, linear feed, Random presents you with a grid of keywords with different-colored backgrounds. The app’s main visual motif is the expansion of the squares within this grid to the size of your phone’s screen. As you cruise through the different free-associative topics offered by the app, the articles appear out of the expanding squares, and if you want to skip a topic, you can pull down a new menu using the tab at the top of the screen. The grids change color as you move between topics, and there are simple navigation buttons that help you go back to anything you missed.

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The key negative influence that Random breaks, says Koponen, is the algorithm, which is indifferent to the actual content it’s manipulating. “We use [a] combination of human curation and algorithms to remix the perspectives. This is crucial. To break the filter bubbles, the system cannot be fully algorithmic or it cannot be fully human-curated or social,” he tells us.

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He continues, “Random is a hybrid that brings together algorithms and anonymous curation. By removing social from the equation it’s possible to avoid social bias and cohesion (e.g. in Twitter and Facebook we are more likely to visit links that are posted by like-minded people).” He also emphasizes the contribution of app users to the suggestion system, a rare acknowledgment indeed: “Random uses algorithms to build new anonymous, synchronous and asynchronous connections between human minds.”

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Random also appreciates individuals despite their anonymity. “There are various different parameters at play affecting the way other people’s interactions influence your topic and content suggestions, for example user similarity, concurrent use, topic and content popularity and time-based topic and content trends,” he says. “The system compares your anonymous profile to other anonymous profiles that contain the same topics. Then Random surveys what patterns these other choice profiles contain that you do not yet have in your profile.” Perhaps the anonymous individual will be the power curator of the future.

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Koponen also adds, “We intend to develop our business models together with the people using Random.” Now that should be an interesting experiment.

Jarno Koponen // Random

Lifehacker, Data Science Weekly

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