Tonic: an app that gives you personalized reading recommendations, ethically
September 18, 2019 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Tonic: an app that gives you personalized reading recommendations, ethically
I'm part of a tiny team of people who just released a free article-recommending app for the iPhone. While building/tweaking/testing it I kept getting recommendations that make me think of good Metafilter posts, so I wanted to pass it along! In addition to having amazing content, we've built it in a way that I think folks here would really appreciate.

Here are characteristics that I think are appealing: (This is going to be long because I'm really excited about this thing)

Private: The goal here is to preserve user privacy to the fullest--you don't have an account, the app doesn't know who you are, and your data lives on your device rather than a server. When you read articles in the app, it's in a private browser. (Software engineer's digression: Some information is sent to the servers to request recommendations, train the recommendation engine, and give us very coarse metrics on how the app is being used, but it's noised, anonymized, and fuzzed in a way that means that no information can be inferred with certainty about the data, and it isn't linked to you in any way.)

A human is in the loop: All the articles in the pool of possible stories have been greenlit by our editorial team, headed up by former NYT Community Desk editor Bassey Etim. A diverse range of perspectives is included in the pool, and the editorial lens means that readers should be able to trust the facts and the sources that are selected.

Your time and attention is respected: The app only gives you 5 things to read every day, so you're not thrown into an endless scrolling feed, and the article pool leans away from breaking news/hate reads, and towards thoughtful longform stuff (while still including quick/fun pieces as well as art and poetry).

Transparency and control: By default, the length of time you spend on an article is what drives future recommendations, but you can also adjust it manually (with a cute slider!) on an article by article basis. So no need to stress about messing up your recs by reading something that turns out not to be your thing (aka the ruined Spotify suggestions failure mode).

You are not the product (even though the app is free!). The business model here is to license this kind of technology to other companies in the future, and to use this app as a testbed for our ideas. If it all pans out, many more internet experiences will become better and less creepy in the future :)

iOS only for now, but hopefully Android is on the horizon if we have enough interest!
Role: backend programmer
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