Posting a dozen quick videos and photos to a social network over the course of a day seems normal now, but this wasn’t the case in 2012. That’s the year my company Wander developed an antidote for the heavily filtered, contextless sharing experience. Rather than highlight a single moment, Days encouraged sharing across a full 24-hour period. We believed a day’s worth of content, presented in the order it was created, offered essential context and told a story far greater than the sum of its parts. After we sold the company, the format we pioneered with Days became popularly known as Stories.
As the Stories format continued to take off, it became clear that the way we consumed information online — from current events to sports to politics — was lacking context (similar to our observations around sharing in 2012). I’d see a tweet and need to Google the topic for more information, or I’d read an article and then search Reddit for the whole conversation. Even worse, online echo chambers and exploit algorithms funneled us towards unwanted and often objectionable content.
After two years of development, today we’re launching River to reimagine content discovery. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that misinformation thrives without credible context from all over the web.
The Internet Distilled
River instantly organizes everything people are talking about online — from science to fashion, in the Times and on Twitter — into a personalized stream of bite-sized, shareable stories that gets better as you use it.
Leveraging cutting-edge content understanding (what’s it about, who created it, and how it fits into the broader landscape) and personalization technology, River works without user accounts, exploit algorithms, friending, following, or access to past online activity.
River’s technology responds to new and unexpected events as they happen and learns as the community engages, creating a unique experience for each user in milliseconds. From this year’s royal exit to the Kamala Harris VP nomination to the latest breaking COVID-19 updates, River knows and captures important stories and conversations in real time.
In addition to state-of-the-art recommender and information retrieval systems, we’ve built two unique pieces of technology to instantly make sense of and organize content as it is published across the web.
The first is designed to deeply understand all types of content (tweets, websites, TikTok videos, etc.) and content publishers (from professional media organizations to user-generated content). Our system understands what each piece of content is about, who created it, and how it fits into the broader landscape. For example, River can identify every person, value, concept, and location within a given piece of content, and learns the relationship between those entities. It can also differentiate between subsidiaries and local outlets, original and republished content, and ties between journalists and their publishers.
The second is the River “storymaker.” Every video, article and tweet River ingests is fed into the storymaker, which identifies the context tied to each piece of content and groups articles, videos, and tweets on the same story into trending clusters. This makes it possible to pick out the most interesting and important stories, even as they’re unfolding in real-time.
Reacting Quickly with Overflow
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter Movement, there was a huge uptick in people sharing resources online and, separately, posting selfie video reactions to current events. We saw an opportunity to bring these two impactful behaviors together by designing a feature in River for users to share a video reaction to anything in the app.
After seeing the response to this feature in beta, we quickly realized how powerful it could be on its own and spun it out into a separate app called Overflow.
Overflow is a new kind of community, one where people share and experience reactions to anything on the internet.
Building the Future
We previously developed core parts of search and discovery at Google, Twitter, and Bing, and led global redesigns of Instagram and Spotify. In just over two years, our team built one of the most sophisticated content understanding and discovery systems in the world from the ground up. We wanted a set of investors that mirrored our experience and believed in our vision of where the internet is headed. We’ve raised $10.4M in funding from some of the most talented investors in the industry, including Founders Fund, .406 Ventures, Box Group, Scooter Braun, Josh Kushner, and Raised in Space.
Navigating the future of content discovery without the pitfalls is an enormous undertaking. We still have a long way to go, but believe people deserve and desperately need this reimagined experience.
Jeremy Fisher is the CEO and Co-Founder of River. A serial entrepreneur, Jeremy was previously CEO and Co-Founder of Wander. He lives in New York City.