A Year After Launch, Grasswire Is Making Changes for the Future
With the rise of social media, now more than ever anyone can be a reporter or a journalist. At the touch of a button we all have the power to post a video, photo, or status update detailing an event in real time. This is where Grasswire comes in.
Grasswire is the people’s newsroom. It is an open, crowd sourced, crowd edited news outlet. When a topic is up voted, it reaches the top of the website’s home page in the same way that Reddit works. If you see something you think is wrong, you can post a source URL for information that disproves it. Basically, it’s the solution for errors in news updates on other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Technology is supposed to fix errors in things already made and push creativity and innovation in culture further than it’s gone thus far. Grasswire does just that.
A few months ago we chatted with Austen Allred, Grasswire’s Co-Founder/CEO. In our second interview with the Utah native, we talk about major changes to the site and the company’s plans for the future.
CJ (Cameron Jernigan): Tell me a little bit about yourself and how your life so far has led you to start Grasswire.
AA (Austen Allred): Yeah, so I grew up in Utah, had a pretty average childhood. I liked computers more than most people do [laughs] but nothing too crazy. Then, when I was 19, I served a Mormon mission in Eastern Ukraine for two years. I learned how to speak Russian and I rarely spoke English and I kind of just talked to people for two years. That was probably the biggest defining moment of my life, because I had never really been far away from home or learned a foreign language. Then I moved to China for a little bit, mostly because I was bored and didn’t really like college. When I was in China that was when the Arab Spring broke out.
I was watching that on social media since it obviously wasn’t covered very well because of Chinese media that the government controls; they didn’t want to say “Hey, look, people can overthrow their government.” It’s not the message that state run news organizations want to put across. So, as I watched it unfold on social media I saw groups formed to find verify information, it just became clear to me that was what the future of journalism is: a way for a lot of different people to gather and verify information. Hopefully producing something that is really interesting and newsworthy.
CJ: In your last interview with Infinite, Grasswire was about a month old at that time, how has it changed since then? Going from being a commodity for a month to almost a year, what are any major changes you’ve made to the site and the system?
AA: There are a couple of really big things we learned. So when we had the idea for Grasswire, we had this really big system, how everything would work, all these decisions would be made and all these algorithms; exciting stuff. Then we got the community to come on the site and use it. What we found was that the community was basically abusing the system to make the site look the way they wanted it to look.
CJ: I was going to ask about that. That could happen pretty easily, given the freedom and power users have.
AA: Exactly. Right now, everything, well what goes to the top, is decided by up votes and so the community would pretty quickly have a consensus on what the top story should be. We have a little Slack channel that everyone’s in, and they’d say “Hey, lets vote this one up cause it’s the best!” and now we’re realizing, that thing that we thought would be cool is actually turning into a big hindrance. The next version that will be rolling out deviates from that. We trust the community to do what’s right and we’re giving them the tools to do so. Everything will be simple, and everyone will have control over what happens. I’m sure there will be battles or disagreements, but by and large were trusting the community to do what’s right.
CJ: When I first tried out the site, I realized that it was a very realistic possibility for people’s biases to turn the up vote system into a negative thing.
AA: Basically when we came up with the idea, we saw a steakhouse. Everyone is sitting down at the table eating their steak. Everyone has a knife, so they can kill people. We obviously don’t want people to kill anyone [laughs], so it’s sort of like chaining the knife to the table is what we’ re trying to do. They’re awful to use, but at the end of the day you just have to trust people to not kill each other.
CJ: Has there ever been a big story to break and someone on the site got it completely wrong? Does that happen often?
AA: Almost everyday, there’s some misinformation. That’s not always the reporter’s fault, its just sometimes there’s no one to report on it. Like this morning, someone said that the Turkish Army crossed into Syria to fight ISIS. Turkey denies it, Syria says it’s happening. We haven’t had any really good photo or video so, who do you trust? Nobody. So the report states what everyone says and we’ll let you know what happens when we have more information. A lot of news organizations make the mistake of saying things about countries or people discrediting them. That’s a dangerous game to be playing.
CJ: You stated in the last interview that the goal of Grasswire is to “democratize news.” Has that goal changed?
AA: I think the goal remains the same. There’s one other change we’ve made to help get there. It seems antithetical to that goal but its not. That is that we’ve hired a couple of professional reporters. We didn’t do that because we don’t trust the community or we’re giving up on our vision. Now there are professionals who can help our users’ visions and know what best practices of journalism are.
CJ: New staff hires?
AA: When I talked to you guys last, we had 3 people. Now there’s a team of 7 and a couple freelancers on top of that. 3 programmers, a designer, and a couple of reporters.
CJ: Any competition?
AA: Every other news site ever, but the closest thing is probably Infobitt. They’re vaguely similar, crowd sourced news. Storyful, who just got bought by NewsCorp is similar also. They use crowd-sourced news, but not really competition.
Grasswire is your chance to put the power of news reporting in your own hands. Take a second and download Grasswire onto your mobile advice now. It’s your opportunity to spread the news that account.