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Sift’s ‘news therapy’ app aims to promote understanding, not anxiety

Is reading the news feeling a little stressful today? Can’t imagine why. Don’t worry: you’re not alone. A Pew Research study found that seven of 10 Americans today suffer from “news fatigue” — meaning they feel worn out and like they can’t keep up. Meanwhile, an APA survey found that 56 percent of Americans want to stay informed, but it stresses them out. A new app called Sift, launching today, wants to help. Instead of trying to overwhelm news consumers with breaking news and incremental updates, it aims to thoughtfully approach tough topics in order to encourage a deeper understanding of the issues.

The app will tackle the big issues du jour — like immigration, healthcare and climate change, for example — which are released in a series on a subscription basis. For each topic, Sift will examine the backstory and history of the issue. And each section will include interactive features — like polls, sliders and other data visualizations — that promote critical thinking skills and keep users engaged while they learn.

The app also avoids inflammatory language in presenting the facts, allowing users time to reflect rather than react. And all the sources are linked so users can dig into the supporting material.

According to Sift co-founder Gabe Campodonico, the goal was to come up with a concept for an app that would allow people to stay informed while reducing anxiety and stress.

“We built Sift to be an active learning experience that engages more of your brain — a tool for people to interact with, trust, and learn from. And one that doesn’t have to live within a distracted ecosystem of noisy newsfeeds and headlines competing for attention,” he explained.

The original concept began over two years ago, and has gone through several iterations.

The team earlier tested a reference product — but it ended up feeling too much like Wikipedia. They also tried a digital news magazine, but didn’t feel it offered anything new. And they tested a gamified education product, but felt it lacked substance.

Eventually they landed on the idea for Sift, which they call an “experiment in news therapy.”

In October 2018, Sift launched its first topic: the U.S. immigration policy and its impact on the economy and cultural identity. The company tested the topic with a group of users over a couple of months. At the end, 33 percent said they felt less overwhelmed, and 30 percent felt less anxious. Twenty-two percent said they felt more informed.

These numbers, of course, could be better — but they’re potentially an improvement over how it feels today to get the news from other media sources. (Not that they quantify how their coverage impacts readers’ emotions.)

Today, Sift is launching its first, full series for the price of $19.99 for a six-month subscription. The business model was chosen so the app won’t have to include ads or other distractions, nor will it use data targeting. Each week, the app will release a new topic, beginning with immigration, then guns, healthcare, education, climate change and media literacy.

Part one of each topic will look to the past to set the foundation, and part two will look at potential solutions and ways to move forward.

The app is produced by former Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s AI-focused startup studio All Turtles, but it doesn’t use AI as it had originally planned. In fact, the team found that AI was part of the problem. As the Sift website explains, its user research showed that “users value human curation, not based on algorithms that clutter news consumption.”

It’s interesting that Sift is positioning itself almost as a self-care app, but for news consumption. The idea that we should take time for ourselves, reduce our stress, meditate and prioritize our mental health and wellness is a more modern concept — one attributed to the millennial and Gen Z demographic, who have grown up in the always-on digital age. These concepts have led to a booming self-care market, where the top apps are raking in multi-millions annually. 

News organizations, by comparison, often struggle. Over the course of 2018, media businesses saw numerous layoffs, hiring freezes and shutdowns. But subscription-based publications can be a bright spot — as with The NYT hitting a 13-year high, or Apple rounding up all-you-can-eat news into a subscription add-on for Apple News.

Sift aims to appeal to both markets: those who want quality news by subscription, and those focused on self-care.

Whether either of these demographics at all overlap with the crowd of news consumers who actually need more education and time to reflect, however, remains to be seen.

Sift was co-founded by Chris Ploeg, and includes engineer Steve White and Kelly Chen on editorial. It also works with contributors Nithin Coca, Laura Dorwart, Hilary Fung, MJ Gimenez, Tekendra Parmar, Casey O’Brien, Lewis Wallace and Rowan Walrath.

The app is a free download on the App Store.


Source: TechCrunch

BlackBerry Messenger to shut down in May – CNET

The consumer version of the app is closing its digital doors.
Source: CNET

Acura MDX PMC Edition will pop out of NSX factory after TLX finishes up – Roadshow

We’re still not sure how much it will cost, though.
Source: CNET

New York’s Aggressive Climate Law Takes Aim at Skyscrapers

The city’s new rules compel the owners of big buildings to dramatically reduce their carbon emissions as part of a broad package of climate reforms.
Source: Wired

Lawmakers weigh in on Mueller report, AG Barr and WikiLeaks – CNET

No surprise, everybody’s got an opinion.
Source: CNET

Ex-Nissan exec Jose Munoz is now Hyundai's global COO, CEO of Hyundai North America – Roadshow

This is a real power move for both Munoz and Hyundai, as the latter moves to carve itself a bigger piece of the pie.
Source: CNET

Why Honda's crashed HR-V is one of the most important cars in New York – Roadshow

It’s a big step forward for Honda’s smallest SUV, and it can help educate the public on safety.
Source: CNET

Mueller report details the evolution of Russia’s troll farm as it began targeting US politics

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr released the long-anticipated Mueller report. With it comes a useful overview of how Russia leveraged U.S.-based social media platforms to achieve its political ends.

While we’ve yet to find too much in the heavily redacted text that we didn’t already know, Mueller does recap efforts undertaken by Russia’s mysterious Internet Research Agency or “IRA” to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The IRA attained infamy prior to the 2016 election after it was profiled in depth by the New York Times in 2015. (That piece is still well worth a read.)

Considering the success the shadowy group managed to achieve in infiltrating U.S. political discourse — and the degree to which those efforts have reshaped how we talk about the world’s biggest tech platforms — the events that led us here are worth revisiting.

IRA activity begins in 2014

In Spring of 2014, the special counsel reports that the IRA started to “consolidate U.S. operations within a single general department” with the internal nickname the “translator.” The report indicates that this is the time the group began to “ramp up” its operations in the U.S. with its sights on the 2016 presidential election.

At this time, the IRA was already running operations across various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Later it would expand its operations to Instagram and Tumblr as well.

Stated anti-Clinton agenda

As the report details, in the early stages of its U.S.-focused political operations, the IRA mostly impersonated U.S. citizens but into 2015 it shifted its strategy to create larger pages and groups that pretended to represent U.S.-based interests and causes, including “anti-immigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter [activists]” among others.

The IRA offered internal guidance to its specialists to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them” in early 2016.

While much of the IRA activity that we’ve reported on directly sowed political discord on divisive domestic issues, the group also had a clearly stated agenda to aid the Trump campaign. When the mission strayed, one IRA operative was criticized for a “lower number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton” and called the goal of intensify criticism of Clinton “imperative.”

That message continued to ramp up on Facebook into late 2016, even as the group also continued its efforts in issued-based activist groups that, as we’ve learned, sometimes inspired or intersected with real life events. The IRA bought a total of 3,500 ads on Facebook for $100,000 — a little less than $30 per ad. Some of the most successful IRA groups had hundreds of thousands of followers. As we know, Facebook shut down many of these operations in August 2017.

IRA operations on Twitter

The IRA used Twitter as well, though its strategy there produced some notably different results. The group’s biggest wins came when it managed to successfully interact with many members of the Trump campaign, as was the case with @TEN_GOP which posed as the “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans.” That account earned mentions from a number of people linked to the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump Jr., Brad Parscale and Kellyanne Conway.

As the report describes, and has been previously reported, that account managed to get the attention of Trump himself:

“On September 19, 2017, President Trump’s personal account @realDonaldTrump responded to a tweet from the IRA-controlled account @ l0_gop (the backup account of @TEN_ GOP, which had already been deactivated by Twitter). The tweet read: “We love you, Mr. President!”

The special counsel also notes that “Separately, the IRA operated a network of automated Twitter accounts (commonly referred to as a bot network) that enabled the IRA to amplify existing content on Twitter.”

Real life events

The IRA leveraged both Twitter and Facebook to organize real life events, including three events in New York in 2016 and a series of pro-Trump rallies across both Florida and Pennsylvania in the months leading up the election. The IRA activity includes one event in Miami that the then-candidate Trump’s campaign promoted on his Facebook page.

While we’ve been following revelations around the IRA’s activity for years now, Mueller’s report offers a useful birds-eye overview of how the group’s operations wrought havoc on social networks, achieving mass influence at very little cost. The entire operation exemplified the greatest weaknesses of our social networks — weaknesses that up until companies like Facebook and Twitter began to reckon with their role in facilitating Russian election interference, were widely regarded as their greatest strengths.


Source: TechCrunch

The Mueller Report Is Much Worse For Trump Than Barr Let On

The Mueller report clearly shows that Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice, regardless of what the attorney general says.
Source: Wired

Working backwards to uncover key success factors

If you’re a SaaS business,  you’re likely overwhelmed with data and an ever-growing list of acronyms that purport to unlock secret keys to your success. But like most things,  tracking with you do has very little impact on what you actually do.

It’s really important to find one, or a very small number, of key indicators to track and then base your activities against those. It’s arguable that SaaS businesses are becoming TOO data driven — at the expense of focussing on the core business and the reason they exist.

In this article, we’ll look at focusing on metrics that matter, metrics that help form activities, not just measure them in retrospect.

Most of the metrics we track, such as revenue growth, are lagging indicators. But growth is a result, not an activity you can drive. Just saying you want to grow an extra 10% doesn’t mean anything towards actually achieving it.

Since growth funnels are generally looked at from top to bottom, and in a historical context — a good exercise can be the other way around — go bottom-up, starting with the end result (the growth goal) and figure out what each stage needs to contribute to achieve it.

You can do this by looking at leading indicators. These are metrics that you can influence — and that as you act, and see them increase or decrease, you can be relatively certain of the knock-on effects on the rest of the business. For example — if you run a project management product, the number of tasks created is likely to be a good leading indicator for the growth of the business — more tasks created on the platform equals more revenue.


Source: TechCrunch

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