Reading the News: Trigger iOS and You

A while back we here at Trigger noticed something: there’s really an incredible amount of stuff on the internet. What’s more, content gets added at a rapidly accelerating rate every day. The task of going through all of it to find the few gems that you’d actually be interested in reading would be as horrifying as it is unfeasible. The fundamental problem that a “news aggregator” or “news reader” tries to solve is to pare down this overwhelming amount of (often garbage) content and deliver you stuff that you might actually be interested in reading. Over the years aggregators have gotten progressively better at this. Some have chosen to go the algorithmic route; where “what you want to read” becomes a simple function of “what’s popular” and “what your friends are reading”. Others have chosen a more old-school path, hiring editorial teams to deliver a deeper or more thorough understanding of the day’s events.

Have either of these methods been successful? Inasmuch as they’re Trigger’s competition we want to say “no”, but the answer is pretty obviously “yes, with reservations”. The pure personalization plays, those that determine an article’s relevance to you by looking to what your friends are reading, suffer from not always bringing you content in a timely fashion. By definition these algorithms have to wait until an article is popular in general and popular within your social graph before it decides it’s appropriate to serve up to you. Although you might find yourself generally reading stuff you’re in to, you might also find yourself reading it last amongst your friends. Personalization often sacrifices timeliness for relevance and has the unfortunate side-effect of reinforcing the already constricting filter bubble we live in.

Aggregators that editorialize suffer a related but slightly different problem. We love the idea that an editorial team can bring us a deeper understanding of the news by tying seemingly unconnected threads together or by giving us the history of the topic in question. We’re really huge fans of the apps that do this. I’ll happily admit that I shamelessly quote historical facts I’ve learned from Timeline during relevant conversations with my friends. Unfortunately, these apps are niche offering at best and can’t really serve as a one-stop news source. The research intensive nature of editorializing means that the additional understanding must necessarily come at the cost of timeliness and even the best editorial team can’t come up with an interesting expanded story to tell about some topics.

We developed Trigger not in hopes of replacing the great apps already out there, but in hopes of adding some value to users by addressing their drawbacks. Trigger aggregates the news with a combination of in-house source curation and by using a proprietary “social momentum” personalization algorithm. Filter bubble getting you down? We go even further by finding you the things you (and your friends) might be interested in that you (and them) aren’t reading.

Trigger Version 1.0

In programming the term “garbage in, garbage out” is ubiquitous. If you feed a process, no matter how perfect, crap, you’re going to get crap out the other end. We don’t want to sound like total hipsters, but popular content from a garbage source is still probably garbage. So what if Fox News’s latest “10 Ways Liberals are Destroying America” article has been shared a million times? Do you really want that showing up in your news aggregator? Probably not. To ensure we weren’t feeding our process garbage, we sat and looked at over a hundred sources in every one of our Trigger categories. We manually pared the list down to the ten we thought consistently produced great quality content. We made sure this 10 included both what you might consider “mainstream” and “indie” sources and we enforce a daily minimum of articles from each type of source to ensure that gross popularity doesn’t always trump originality.

We’ve also approached the aggregation process from a unique angle. Instead of simply searching for “what’s popular” we instead calculate “what’s new, but likely to be popular”. In essence our algorithm attempts to predict which content will trend in order to maximize relevance and timeliness. We’ve done some pretty deep data analysis on the results of our algorithm vs. other leading news aggregations app and we’ve found that Trigger will, on average, bring you many of the same articles almost an hour before the fastest of those alternative apps. If you’re the kind of person who loves being the first to read a cool tech feature and share it with your friends then we think that Trigger will deliver you some serious value.

Obligatory iPhone on wood shot.

Earlier I briefly mentioned that we designed Trigger with “filter bubble bursting” in mind. As we started the Trigger development process we were shocked by just how much this bubble influences what we read on a day-to-day basis. Analyzing your social graph is a great tool to personalize your news feed it has a seriously strong filter bubble reinforcing effect. Personalizing in this fashion, although a reliable way to increase content’s relevance to you, has the unfortunate side-effect of making it far less likely that you discover exciting things that you want to share with your friends.

Trigger’s “Overlooked” feature is meant to, in some small way, counteract this trend. By linking Trigger with your Twitter account we’re able to go through and essentially anti-personalize parts of your news feed. We want to find you the things your friends aren’t reading but should be. “Overlooked” tries to dig up the day’s “gems” so to speak; the articles that would start a great conversation with a friend at a local coffee shop.

Our vision is a world where everybody has access to the things they care about as soon as they happen. We’re working hard to make Trigger the smallest of steps in that direction and we’d love it if you’d join us on this journey. Version 1.0 of Trigger is slated to be released on the App Store on June 8 for the low, low price of absolutely free. No advertisements, no catches, just great content content and great conversations. Come try us out!

-Taylor (Trigger)