Track180 Builds iPad App to Bring More Context, Balance to Online News

2/21/13Follow @gthuang

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present viewpoints that you might not be aware of. It’s the opposite of personalization, in a sense, as it tries to guard against subtle forms of confirmation bias—reading only ideas and authors you already agree with, for example.

In the app version I saw last month, different articles about a particular news topic show up as circles on the screen—a maximum of five of them. There’s no search feature; instead, Track180 gives you a choice of 21 issues that it considers important topics of the day. These show up as bubbles on the main navigation page, with headlines and images. You can browse the articles around each bubble and track the timeline of when related events happened, using an interactive toolbar on the side.

Another interesting feature: a “call to action” button that (in some cases) will let readers do things like sign a petition or donate money to a cause.

“The key thing is not to be the answer,” Hontz says. “This is about breaking the mold, creating a different option for the reader. It’s designed to be like a conversation.”

The app draws from some 1,200 news and media sources—papers, magazines, blogs, and so forth. It chooses which articles to surface using mainly human editors, though the team is “working on increasing the automation side,” Hontz says. “You have to create a hybrid.”

Track180 has an editorial staff of about a dozen, and its app development team is based in Barcelona. Hontz says the company has started talking with outside investors about raising money. (It’s still super early, of course, but if all goes well with the news app, you could imagine the same principles being applied to other content areas like travel, food, or sports.)

But back to the psychology aspect for a minute. The ultimate goal of Track180—as idealistic as it sounds—is to provide more balance and perspective around issues in the news; sometimes this will mean showing diametrically opposed accounts of the same event (think Republican and Democratic responses to President Obama’s state of the union speech).

“You can see the two points and make up your own mind,” Hontz says. “This is the first step of what I hope will be a shift in people understanding that compromise leads to good things.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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