“Young people especially are increasingly trapped in echo chambers online and on social media. We get a really one-sided picture of what’s happening,” Nick Rubin ’20 said, explaining what drove him to create an app called Winno, which aims to combat misinformation and make news more accessible to the public.
Winno was publicly launched over the past summer and rose to #69 in the News category of the Apple App Store during early October.
The app is designed so that the user decides which “feeds” to follow, ranging from #climate-change to #top-news. Users receive short, one-sentence updates on the feeds they follow, and have the option of learning more from one high-quality article selected by the Winno team.
Users seem to appreciate the succinctness of the content provided by the app. One one App Store reviewer wrote, “The short notifications are very easily consumable, and you aren’t spammed with a bunch of blasts because you can choose what you want to follow ”
Winno user Jordan Stipp ’19 similarly stressed the importance of accessibility, especially for busy students with limited free time.
“[As] Stanford students, we always have our heads down, always studying and it can be hard to stay up to date,” he said.
Resenting click-driven headlines, Rubin elaborated that “the Internet and social media have perhaps commodified articles in a bad way. What ends up happening is the most outrageous or significant sounding headlines bubble to the surface. People scale articles and see small snippets and reactions to stories here and there, but few people get the full picture.”
Rubin emphasized that Winno should not be regarded as a news outlet rather than an aggregator.
“News aggregators that personalize content absolutely create echo chambers, but that’s not how Winno works,” explained Rubin. “Winno is the anti-echo chamber.”
Since news aggregators only curate headlines under one topic and operate as revenue-maximizing machines, they have no guarantee that the web scraping they perform minimizes biases. Similarly, they have been criticized for operating in a manner that does not uphold journalistic standards because the content selected is determined by arbitrary search results that intend to appease advertisers and align with a user’s preference.
Rubin personally does not use news aggregators like Google News to follow hot topics such as the current impeachment inquiry because the “infinite list of headlines that isn’t chronologically sorted, is full of duplicates and irrelevant junk, has no distinction between news and opinion/analysis, etc. And the headlines are all designed to compete for your attention.”
There would be an increase in consumer welfare “if [aggregators] used journalistic methods of content selection and prioritization instead of focusing their energy on identifying which audiences are likely to be the best targets in terms of monetization, ” asserted a paper published by the English-Spanish research journal Communicar.
Although Winno’s goal is to fight this very bias, Rubin acknowledged that “even Winno isn’t invincible to selection bias” and that “we’re all prone to cognitive biases.” He maintains that “being objective is at [Winno’s] core value.”
According to the Collins Dictionary, “If you winnow a group of things or people, you reduce its size by separating the ones that are useful or relevant from the ones that are not.” In explaining the meaning of the app’s name, Rubin reaffirms that this is “exactly what we’re trying to do.”