Reaching beyond the filter bubble

5 July 2021

Since the dawn of the internet, the volume of content available to us has been growing exponentially. In order to help us find what we are looking for, search engines and content providers have introduced curation algorithms that provide users with a tailor-made feed of content based on, for instance, our click-history and location. Algorithms, however, come with side effects, with so-called filter bubbles being perhaps the most serious one. The Link talked to SCC members Ansofy and Wiser, who both aim to overcome this challenge and provide us with content that is diverse and mind-opening. 

“Filter bubbles can be nice and comfortable for the readers, but where the companies have gone wrong is that you cannot come out of your bubble to see new things. The algorithms of today just give you more of what you already know, which narrows down your perception,” Theresa Weber-Qvarfort, Founder and CEO of Swedish social impact startup ‘Ansofy,’ says. According to Theresa, this is a threat to democracy, as people struggle to get the correct picture of what is actually happening around the world. 

Information should be free 
Ansofy is developing an algorithm that will do the opposite, aiming to expand their user’s perspectives by recommending relevant articles on the same topic but from sources they normally don’t read. “We believe that information should be free and that the readers themselves should be able to decide what is relevant or not for them to read,” Theresa says. Theresa, who is of German descent, got the idea for the platform while spending hours looking for the latest news on her native country. “The information was so fragmented that it was impossible to get an understanding of events,” she says. In addition, algorithms repeatedly recommended her Swedish local newspapers. Ansofy thus aims to make information, and more specifically free news and articles, available regardless of geographic or socioeconomic factors – all in one app. 

Hand-curated content 
Emre Cubukcu, Founder of Wiser have a similar view on algorithms. “Most content algorithms do one thing really well and that’s recommending you content which resembles what you have already seen. If you watch a video on interior design, the YouTube algorithm is super spot on in recommending you similar videos in that space. And the more you watch, the more precise, narrow, and focused it will get. The externality of such solutions is that, at one point, you stop discovering new things – they create filter bubbles, or ‘echo-chambers’ as we like to call them.” Emre goes on to explain that while algorithms will always be superior in recommending you content that’s similar to what you’ve seen before, the use of hand-curated content is not to recommend you similar content but to help you discover new areas and territories. “These are two solutions for two different use cases, and frankly, media needs both. I think that’s crucial to understand.” 

Bringing a holistic, human-centred approach 
With its social curation platform for podcasts, videos, articles and audiobooks, Wiser has set out to solve the issue of filter bubbles. “We call it the intellectual Pinterest that gamifies intellectual progress. We bring a holistic, human-centred approach to content discovery as opposed to algorithmic solutions that create echo chambers,” Emre says. On Wiser, you can discover curations created by friends, family, colleagues and particularly intellectual influencers referred to as “Wisers”. “One thing we discovered is that even people who know each other really well i.e. friends, partners, colleagues have very little or no insight on the other person’s media behaviour. Once you start diversifying the tools by which you discover content – through different people and curations – then you can break the bubble,” Emre explains. 

Building ground-breaking AI 
Looking forward, both Emre and Theresa see great potential for their respective platforms. “Our amazing development team are currently looking at building a groundbreaking AI that will allow us to burst the filter bubbles. Our app will be available for anyone to download and start using by end of July 2021, and by fall we’re launching our B2B platform as well as our web application”, Theresa says. 

“We are on an invite-only Beta that’s been growing consistently 5-6% every week since March,” Emre says. Wiser is launching its full product in the UK this summer and Emre adds that more news is to come. 

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