This project began a few years ago. It was initially pitched as "a Mint.com for political information." Informed Republic aimed to solve the problem of rational ignorance, a term coined by public choice theorists.
What is rational ignorance?
It takes a considerable amount of time for someone to become a fully informed citizen. It would be a full time job to conduct one's own research and sift through primary sources of information. Further, the only real reward one might receive for doing this is the sense of personal satisfaction of being politically informed. Therefore, many people remain ignorant of many topics, not because they are lazy, but because they are correctly assessing their opportunity cost. Most people's time is better spent on other things than being an armchair investigative journalist. Their ignorance is rational.
Originally, Informed Republic was designed to be a web portal. The user would login, fill out a political survey that would teach the program about the user’s beliefs and principles, and would then begin supplying the user with primary sources of information according to those beliefs and principles.
Further, it would provide the user with updates on political events in their area, upcoming votes, and even their yearly estimated tax liability.
I decided to update the project in the wake of the recent “fake news” obsession. I redesigned the app for a mobile platform and I also layered some additional gamification elements into the app that weren’t there previously.
In the new Informed Republic app the initial survey serves as the basis of the user's political DNA. This is a profile of interests and beliefs that the app can learn from to deliver the appropriate content. The more one uses the app, the more it learns, and the more comprehensive the political DNA profile becomes.
The most important feature I added to the app is the Informational Health Score. This is a score assigned to each user and is determined according to the amounts of information and the quality of information each user consumes.
It is very similar to the nutritional food pyramid. The "Informational Nutrition Pyramid" doesn’t label any type of information as bad. However, it does suggest that there are certain things we should only be consuming in moderation.
The Newswire is the highest quality information. This is the feed we want users to be navigating to most often. These are the primary sources of information: newswire services, investigative reports, official government documents, and so on. No editorial content — no matter how prestigious the publication — belongs on this feed.
People must form their own opinions, first, before reading the opinion of another person. Reading articles from this feed does the most to improve a user's Informational Health Score.
The Calendar is similar to the Newswire, however the content in this feed is usually something that requires some kind of real world action.
This is also a feed that would be ideal for sponsored content. Since we have an extensive profile on each user, a small third-party candidate, for example, could effectively market to potential voters, whom they never would've found through other forms of media.
The Social Feed is the junk food in this informational nutrition scheme. It should only be indulged in moderation. There is nothing wrong with consuming these sources of information, but too many newspaper articles, blog posts, and trending hashtags, without ever reading primary sources of information and seeking out firsthand accounts, can lead to an imbalanced diet of information. Accordingly, no content in the Social Feed can add to your Informational Health Score.
Unlike the Newswire, the Social Feed doesn't archive any of its content. Further, whenever possible, Informed Republic will automatically link to any sources mentioned within the content displayed in the Social Feed.
The Social Feed interface makes it very easy to add these primary sources of information to your Newswire. This way, Informed Republic is constantly feeding back into the "healthiest" sources of information.
The leader bar and the point system are two of the more important elements added to the new Informed Republic app. The leader bar provides people with the added incentive to consume higher quality forms of information.
Each piece of content in the Newswire has a point value attached to it. These are the number of points that will be added to your total Informational Health Score, should you finish it.
The desire to be recognized amongst one’s peers as being knowledgeable is very strong. The hope is that we can take this desire for social recognition, and channel it in such a way that it cultivates positive behavior. With luck this will lead to a more thoughtful and knowledgeable populace.
Please have a look at the video walkthrough of the app below. The click dummy can be found at the bottom of the page or at the following link: http://jfr.ooo/ir