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Summary:

Personalized algorithms and social recommendations are great for a lot of things. But when it comes to getting news, these technologies can create an echo chamber, where our existing beliefs are reflected back to us. Uberpaper, a new site from Dmitry Shapiro, wants to combat that.

Uberpaper screenshot (click to enlarge)

Personalized algorithms and social networking sites are great for helping people navigate a lot of things online — music, movies, restaurant recommendations and the like have benefited greatly from high tech curation. But according to serial entrepreneur Dmitry Shapiro, when it comes to getting the news, these technologies create a problem: We start to live in an echo chamber, where our existing interests are reinforced as being of utmost importance, and our existing beliefs are reflected back to us.

Uberpaper founder Dmitry Shapiro

“In a world full of algorithms, we can get a skewed sense of the world when it comes to news,” Shapiro, the tech executive known for founding Veoh and most recently for serving as the CTO of MySpace Music, said in a phone conversation Thursday. “News is an extremely important part of how we experience the world around us. If news has been overly processed by personalization algorithms that essentially pander to us, we can start to believe that the world is a certain way, when it really isn’t that way at all.”

News that’s purposefully impersonal

That problem is exactly what Shapiro’s latest project Uberpaper was built to combat. Uberpaper, which launched to the public this week, pulls all the news from Yahoo News’ API and presents it in a way that manages to be both clean and image-rich: Imagine Flipboard meets Pinterest, but all in a liquid user interface design that works in any web browser. The only social elements to the site come in the form of a simple “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” button that users are meant to use to show how well-reported or relevant a story was, as well as the ability to comment.

Users can choose to view Uberpaper in 10 different languages, and sort the news according to topics such as World, US, Business, Technology, Sports, Politics, and so on — just like an old fashioned newspaper. In fact, the experience of finding out what’s happening in the world by reading a traditional physical paper is a big thing Uberpaper is trying to replicate. Shapiro put it this way:

“With technology, I think we threw the baby out with bathwater when it came to newspapers. Online news sites today show their content very much like search does — it’s kind of database-y, and formatted in a very linear way. We wanted to bring back the aesthetic of a newspaper, and the serendipity that comes with scanning the news that way.”

Uberpaper screenshot (click to enlarge)

Keeping social in its place

However, Shapiro is quick to point out that he is personally a big fan of social media sites, telling me, “I love Facebook and Twitter, and I’m on those sites all day long. They’re wonderful places to share news, and I don’t think Uberpaper is competitive in any way to them.” Rather, he says, Uberpaper is meant to be a place where people can find fresh news to ultimately go back and share with their friends on Facebook and Twitter — to bring something new to the table, rather than re-sharing stuff that’s already been discovered.

For now, Uberpaper only pulls in news through Yahoo News’ API, which was chosen because it has a very broad base of news sources and topics. More news sources will be folded into Uberpaper in the future, but the expansion process will be very well-considered, Shapiro said. “We’re going to be really cautious as we add additionally sources. We very much want to make sure that we’re not slanting the news in partisan ways, or toward any kind of topic, really — it should be broad and generic.”

Uberpaper was built by the same team led by Shapiro that built Anybeat, the social network that encourages people to use pseudonyms that launched this past autumn. Anybeat, which has $1 million in funding, is still in operation, but right now it and Uberpaper are being run as separate products. Uberpaper doesn’t make any revenue right now, but down the line advertising could be brought in to run alongside the news.

A long shot that’s worth taking

In all, I think Uberpaper is great: Simple, straightforward, and clean, while perpetually brimming with new content. It’s certainly coming out in a tough space — many people already feel like they have more than enough sources of news — but I could see Uberpaper becoming a much-frequented bookmark for news junkies. And in my opinion, any service that’s aiming to put an end to the echo chamber is fighting the good fight.

  1. Odd, it looks like Verizon FIOS DNS servers don’t have uberpaper.com in their databases. Also, if I search for it, there is no uberpaper.com result. However, I can get to the site from work…

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  2. Brendan MacLane Thursday, January 26, 2012

    Good Noows http://goodnoows.com has the paper aesthetic but it’s better because you can actually set the sources yourself. Not sure what’s the point of looking at Yahoo News’s content.

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  3. Interesting concept – Bookmarking to follow later after adjusting to current social site change struggles. I tend to compartmentalize with all my sites and use Twitter as a general news feed. This article, however, came from the blogs I follow on my own blog. I’m a Google+ newbie trying to figure out what to follow, if anything–looks like technology will find a home there. Google News is where I start the day, but, as you point out so well, that may no longer be a fit for my diversity of interests, thought, and politics.
    Thanks very much,
    Gail Kent
    Gail Kent Studio and A Painter’s Resources

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  4. I enjoyed reading about the subject of Uberpaper as this is a concept which is anchored in common sense, yet has been forgotten in recent years. It seems that a majority of people are glued to their own social site(s) and this feeds to solidify their existing opinions on newsworthy items. The flip side of this is that the interests of particular persons continue to be fed to mass quantities without ever giving any alternative perspective. I originally thought with the invention of the information super highway that the level of marked intelligence by the masses would increase. To date, it seems that the more accessible the information people have, the less they continue to read and explore. I have heard a saying that says “you can send the kid to school and buy them new books and all they do is tear out the pages” (unknown source) which applies to the amount of information people seem to miss. For the study of ethics in communication I have observed how choice plays a large part in both the sender and the receiver of the message. Normally, the sender can determine what information they wish to release and then the receiver can make a decision based on this. With the vast amount of information available to the masses, the choice now falls on the receiver to choose what information they wish to the review in order to make an informed decision. Uberpaper is an old concept (i.e. Newspaper) which still holds true today and if the message receiver chooses to take the time to study the information then an informed decision could be made. The current social media field serves its purposes as they apply to social clicks, however, to be used as a platform for forming or arguing say a political agenda is not the right arena. Thanks for your post and I look forward to seeing more about this.

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  5. haha you mean like “FLInterest” ?

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  6. This method of presentation (the way UberPaper is doing it) certainly seems to be gaining popularity. There was an interesting article on Mashable about this growing popularity : mashable.com/2012/02/07/pinterest-web-design/comment-page-2
    We are also planning on home-page presentation of startups on http://StartUpLift.com in a similar fashion. It seems to be more visually appealing and makes it easier for visitors to scan more in one swipe.

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