Bridging Different Perspectives
Multi News - A news platform aims to alleviate echo chamber
Multi News is a news aggregator platform that aims to alleviate the echo chamber effect. It is the first iteration of my passion project at UC Berkeley School of Information. This iteration attempted to expose users to different perspectives and lets them decide their views in the hopes of creating a more welcoming news consuming behavior.
Sketch, InVision, After Effects
The Echo Chamber Problem
Growing up in Taiwan and studying in the US, I found that the echo chamber created by the development of personalized advertising and social media creates similar effects in both countries. It generates isolated social environments and hostile online communications, especially when it comes to political issues. The situation we currently live in concerns me since people might grow further apart from each other as technology advances. Perhaps the solution could be derived from the interaction between users and information.
Design a news platform experience that reduces the effect of filter bubble and exposes users to opposing perspectives according to their reading behaviors.
Deliverable (from the Instructor)
High-fidelity mockups for both mobile and desktop with a basic design system.
To found out the root causes of the situation, I researched how was the echo chamber created as well as how targeted algorithms exacerbate the situation. I also studied people's news reading habits to discover pain points and insights for such issue.
Echo Chamber and Filter Bubble
With confirmation bias, people tend to seek information that supports their hypotheses or beliefs. Conversely, they tend not to seek and even to avoid information that opposes their original viewpoints. In 1996, MIT researchers Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolfsson warned of a potential dark side to our newly interconnected world:
"Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases. Internet users can seek out interactions with like-minded individuals who have similar values, and thus become less likely to trust important decisions to people whose values differ from their own.”
With curated algorithms that show users content that they might be interested in based on their browsing history, the online world has been more personalized for everyone. Filter bubbles that are based on the users’ profile and behaviors are created for all online users. That being said, the users "don't decide what gets in. And more importantly, [they] don't actually see what gets edited out.” Thus, people should be mindful of the filter bubble, "surrounding us in information that tends to support what we already believe."
People’s news consumption habits have adjusted over time to technological innovations. In the era filled with information overload and fake news, some reading habits become more apparent among modern news consumers.
Reading on Mobile Devices
Parallel to the smartphone development, "mobile devices have become one of the most common ways Americans get news, outpacing desktop or laptop computers" according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Skim through Headlines
Readers both scan and read deeply rather than reading from page to page on a newspaper. Given how much information people are exposed to in a day, they can only invest in a finite amount of effort and time into news content. People scan through headlines and learn more about a topic they are interested in. By choosing what to understand in depth, readers are less likely to read articles from different perspectives.
Direct Site vs. Social Media
Even though reading news directly from publishers website remains the most common platform where people get news, more users gather their news from social media more often than before. Moreover, the numbers of news consumption from direct sources or social media are nearly identical.
I have also analyzed the following platforms that provide multiple perspectives and coverage on a topic to see the current industry approach the echo chamber effect.
Insights from Competitive Analysis
All the competitor presents numerous reports on a topic. The primary difference between these two types of news aggregator is how they label the perspectives. For Google News and Apple News, they don’t explicitly tell the users which viewpoint the article is leaning to even though the name of the publisher of the story might give it away. Meanwhile, Perspecs and The Perspective clearly indicate the perspective of each report.
From behavior research and competitive analysis, I synthesized the following principles to guide my design process:
The Balance between Challenging Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Overload
During the process of developing the product, I would like to challenge the natural behavior of confirmation bias while preventing cognitive overload during navigation. The prototypes would be designed in higher fidelity than usual with a reasonable amount of actual content to fine-tune that balance through the iteration.
Neutral Visual Presentation
From the color palette to the ordering of the articles, I wanted to make sure that the visual design and the layout of the product minimize as much bias as possible.
A Mobile First New Aggregator
From the research of people’s reading habits, I decided to start by designing the mobile experience of a news aggregator to not only follow the increasing mobile news consumption but also control the experience in a single news platform.
Disregarded Factors for the Scope of the Project
Fake news and fact-checking
Nuance of perspectives
Social media preview
Ideation: Exploring Ways to Present Perspectives
In order to brainstorm ways to expose opposing perspectives to users, I sketched out different concepts pieces of paper and presented them to other people for feedback.
Out of all the concepts from the ideation, I picked two ideas that attracted the most attention from all the people that I have presented to. I wanted to prototype one of the more aggressive ideas and observe how people react. On the other hand, I also tested another more moderate design that is aligned with the approaches from the industry.
Design System: to be as Impartial as Possible
Meanwhile, I also developed a design system that aims to present perspectives as neutral as possible. I decided to use only black, gray, and white as my color palette because any color might anchor the users to certain perspectives in their experience.
Exposing Perspectives through “I Disagree“
Knowing one of the reasons of what headlines people select to read is based on confirmation bias, I explored a design where users are presented with the option to actively “disagree” with what they read on the platform. Even though users might still read about news that supports their beliefs, not only the users are exposed to the opposing perspectives, but also their clicks on the “I Disagree.” button provide input for the targeted algorithm to dissolve the filter bubble.
Proposed User Flow
The homepage of the platform would regularly show the opposing perspectives to the users accordingly, and these users can disagree with the given perspective after reading about it. They also would be able to select perspectives that are more aligned with their views as their reasons to object to the original perspective.
Feedback on the “I Disagree“ Exploration
Most users found this concept intriguing, but they also wondered about the practicality of the product. Some of the feedback talked about this user flow might be “too cognitive load heavy.” There were also users that concerned about “people might be worried about collecting their opinions.” Most importantly, this product required more testing with the target users to adjust the user flow when some users said:
“I don’t know how all people will feel, but if I say I disagree I probably want to be over and done with the article.”
Comprehensive Perspectives vs Minimizing Cognitive Load
In the second prototype of the product, I designed several presentations to see how effective when a platform provides multiple perspectives of one topic to the users. The challenge was creating a balance between comprehensive information while managing reasonable cognitive load.
Proposed User Flow
The flow of this prototype suggests users go through a common knowledge section that should be neutral to all perspectives before reading more details from the different point of views.
Deciding when to present multiple perspectives is essential to the project because 69% of people scan through their daily news headlines more than once per day. Thus, I designed two different homepages to prototype the effectiveness of presenting scannable perspectives right from the homepage.
Multi Perspectives on A Topic
Minimizing Existing Opinions on Original Sources
Through visual design, I wanted to reduce users’ prejudice toward publishers from the opposing perspective. Taking away the colors and logos of the publishers, I assumed that the users would be more focused on the content and be less likely to be influenced by the image of the sources. However, this prototype is designed for accountable publishers and disregarding the possibility of fake news.
Overall, people seemed to like this prototype more than the “Disagree” concept because the navigation is similar to how they get news currently. Some people liked the design that forces the users to read everything when labels and publishers are covered. On the other hand, they worried that users might be lazy and would return to read only their preferred perspectives.
After evaluating the feedback from prototypes, I decided to continue with the moderate design. On top of finalizing all the design element and proper content, I also designed the desktop version of the product.
The Mobile Experience
The homepage presents topics and top headlines of the different perspectives on such topics.
A topic page consists of the common knowledge sections, multiple perspectives on the topic, and follow up actions such as bookmark and share.
A single perspective page not only have the content of the report but also allows the users to switch to the other perspectives or view the original source.
The Desktop Experience
Using the visual elements from the design system, I also developed a desktop version with a similar news reading experience.
“Visually, this is a fantastic design — seeing how the intention of neutrality comes through in the typography, layout, and color choice was fantastic. The basic interaction works as well — switching up POV ordering is a great idea. I'm not sure you answered the deeper question of whether this approach will have the intended effect — but that's fine for this project."
— James Reffell, Instructor & Design Director at Clever
Designing for Behavior Change is Difficult
Even though I have exposed the users to headlines with opposing views, those users might still never change their mind or behaviors at a deeper level. Thus, I would need to incorporate a more concrete performance metric to measure the degree of success for this kind of experimental project.
User Testing is Important
Throughout the user testing of my exploration, many users gave me insights that I didn’t think of at the beginning. For me to design such a content-heavy product, it was extremely helpful to observe how people navigate the prototype to reevaluate my hypothesis.
Different Approaches for the Intended Target Audience
This product might work for the people who are aware of the echo chamber effect and consciously read from multiple perspectives, but it might not be as impactful to those people who either are unaware of the situation or simply refuse to change. Thus, I will try to design other ways to make those target users reevaluate their beliefs with different value propositions.
Factor in More Practical Considerations from Reality
I will also consider more factors, such as a sustainable business model or the possibility of fake news that I disregarded in this project. I’d love to continue exploring more ideas to tackle such a relevant issue in the society of information overload.