The internet grants us greater access to news than ever. We can read it in a web browser, use a news reader app or use an RSS reader. We can zero in on exactly the type of news we want and that is part of the problem. We risk a shallow, misinformed and singular view of the world. Not only politically but across any interests we have. Fostering the view that we are wrong and everyone agrees with us. This spawns unfounded hatred in the hearts of fans against their perceived opposition. (Republican/Democrat, Xbox/Playstation, Apple/Android) The three profound problems I see with the current ways to read news are:
- We only get one point of view. - The dichotomy between the sources we subscribe to and the rest of the world can be astounding. My politics are decidedly on the left, so it wouldn’t be surprising if I never read anything from the rights point of view. This can often be the readers fault because they only want news from one viewpoint, theirs.
- We can get so much information it becomes ridiculous to keep up. - An RSS reader gives you everything and often multiple duplicates of stories. It’s exactly what we ask for but I think it could be done in a better way.
- We don’t have a good way to follow stories themselves. - There are specific news readers that allow you to subscribe to stories but oftentimes the content they show you is time based. If you don’t check it for a day or two the update that completely refutes the outrageous article you read is gone.
Solving The First Two Problems
The solutions to the first two problems are actually very similar. I will use the launch of a new iPhone as an example to show how it could work:
- You open the app and see a single article announcing the new iPhone.
- You press it and are presented with a summary of the new features, pictures and the general consensus from the sites you follow and around the web.
- There is a little pie chart shows 80% of publications you follow wrote about it favourably. Another pie chart shows the percentage from the general web. That way you can see if your sources are biased compared to the rest of the world.
- You press on a pie chart and can see the breakdown of which sites wrote favourably and which didn’t. There is also a more in depth summary of the opposite view of the summary. It goes by general consensus, so if most writers liked it you’d see a positive summary.
- It also breaks down which sources wrote favourably and which didn’t. If you want you can press on a specific source to see their article.
So rather than seeing 40 stories from every site you follow about the launch of the new iPhone, you see one and get the important information. It summarizes both sides of the issue and gives you links to read further.
The one big issue with this approach is how the sites themselves will make any money. If you aren’t driving traffic to their sites they don’t make any money from ads. I don’t have a solution for this yet. Maybe to you can pay sites when you subscribe to them.
Solving The Third Problem
As for the following of specific stories, it would work like this:
- You read an interesting article.
- You “Follow” the story.
- As the story is updated you are notified and it is put in your feed, even if the source is a site you don’t subscribe to.
The reason I want this is societal as much as personal. Our online lives are becoming ever more tailored to our personalities. Googling something and only receiving answers that support your argument is profoundly wrong. It creates cognitive bias that you are right and everyone agrees with you, making you more likely to be dismissive when confronted with evidence from the other side. As for following stories, humans are sensationalists. “Vaccines cause autism!” explodes into the world and convinces a bunch of people not to vaccinate their kids. It is proven in study after study that vaccines don’t cause autism, and yet people still believe they do. Maybe if these parents received update after update refuting the initial claim they would switch their flawed view. That may be me being a dreamer.