Home HowTru Looks to Bring Accountability to Commenting and Journalism

HowTru Looks to Bring Accountability to Commenting and Journalism

A few weeks ago we mentioned an open door of opportunity for startups that could provide a solution to one the Internet’s longest enduring problems: comment management. Shortly after that article was published, I received an email from Toma Bedolla, a Denver-based founder of a startup that was looking to provide a unique commenting service to online media outlets. This week I’m travelling in the Denver area for Boulder Startup Week, and Toma tracked me down at a tech meetup last night to tell me about his startup Veracious Entropy and its first experiment, HowTru.

Anyone who follows any form journalism knows that there is a growing disconnect between valid reporting and incredulous reporting. Studies have shown that a majority of news consumers don’t believe everything they read, watch or listen to. HowTru wants to help both online media outlets and the community of commenters on those sites to increase their credibility with a tool that will incentivize validity in both reporting and commenting.

When a HowTru user reads a story online, the click of a bookmarklet will give them the ability to either verify or refute the validity of that story, as well as leave a comment providing their reasoning. Users will have their identities tied to their HowTru accounts via OpenID or Facebook Connect, and based on how well or poorly the story is rated, their own validity scores will improve. The most reliable news outlets and journalists will see their scores climb as users validate their work.

Bedolla says that he receives enormous support when he introduces his startup at tech meetups because the product is not a new technology, but rather it is a paradigm shift in a market that is aching for a solution.

“The inspiration for the company is based on an altruistic focus,” says Bedolla. “As we reach critical mass, we can counter the effects of misinformation. And in doing so we have a proven market, the credibility market, that has an unlimited upside. For investors, it’s compelling because it’s not just a needed product, but because it also has altruistic qualities.”

Just as home buyers need a solid credit score to secure a loan for a house, commenters and journalists can also benefit from having measurable veracity, as HowTru calls it. Commenters are incentivized to leave thoughtful and valid comments because their own personal veracity score depends on it. If a user validates a story, and several others agree and also validate it, the overall score of that story will rise over time, and that change in veracity funnels back to the commenters that supported it. On the other hand, if a commenter validates a story that the majority of users refute, the commenter loses points in their credibility score.

The inspiration for the company is based on an altruistic focus […] As we reach critical mass, we can counter the effects of misinformation.”
– Toma Bedolla.

This system breeds truth and validity within comments because leaving a comment becomes an investment in the success or failure of that story’s overall score. In the same way that stock market investors place their money on stocks they think will either rise or fall in price, commenters are placing educated bets on the validity of a news story. Instead of a cash return, they are rewarded with points to their individual veracity scores.

As the personal brand of journalists becomes increasingly more influential in how readers choose which news they will consume, a service that can provide a metric for validity of authors and outlets could have a huge impact on online journalism. Online outlets have been trying to solve issues surrounding anonymity and accountability within their comment systems, and HowTru’s proposed innovations could be an excellent solution.

Based in Denver, Bedolla has enthusiastic help from pro bono employees from San Francisco, California to Portland, Maine. They’ve even managed to outsource some of their early development to coders in Ethiopia while they bootstrap their company. They currently have nearly $400,000 in funding, but through a deal with their investors they have agreed to not touch the money until they raise $500,000.

Personally I find HowTru to be a truly intriguing idea, one that could weed out poor journalism while promoting the most credible writers and commenters. Their initial success also provides a valuable lesson to early stage startups: the best ideas are not always completely new concepts, but rather practical solutions to existing problems using existing technology. A quote by financier and presidential advisor Bernard M. Baruch displayed on the HowTru website does an excellent job of summing up the company’s motivation.

“Every man has a right to be wrong in his opinions. But no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

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