Mark Little media venture Neva Labs aims to be Netflix for news

Dublin company with global ambition wants to burst artificial intelligence ‘filter bubble’

Neva Labs co-founder Mark Little: The company believes future news consumption will involve ‘a personal assistant for news’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Neva Labs co-founder Mark Little: The company believes future news consumption will involve ‘a personal assistant for news’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Storyful founder and former RTÉ journalist Mark Little has set up a new digital media company to help publishers beat the problem of “information overload” and deliver personalised news to paying users.

Mr Little and co-founder Áine Kerr have established Neva Labs in Dublin and hired product specialists ahead of a six- to eight-month phase for testing their assumptions about how it might work.

Neva Labs will explore putting voice activation at the heart of its product, effectively creating “a personal assistant for news”.

The company intends to use the latest artificial intelligence (AI) to restore “truth and trust” to the distribution of information at a time when tech companies have been criticised for their role in the spread of “fake news”.

“We are talking to people at the cutting edge of machine learning and AI. We have huge ambition for this, probably bigger than we did at Storyful,” Mr Little told The Irish Times.

“I think the future is going to be a Spotify or Netflix for news,” he said, citing a recent “surge” of interest in the development of new payment methods for content.

“We are really focusing on the individuals’ experience of news. This is not just about saving journalism.”

Social media platforms, led by Facebook, have been accused of perpetuating news “filter bubbles”, in which users’ feeds become so determined by past preferences – and those of their close circle – that false news, misinformation and untrustworthy sources thrive unchallenged.

“This is the problem we want to solve. No one is in control over their algorithms at the moment, but we want people to have that control,” he said.

Global scale

Mr Little sold social news agency Storyful to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in 2013 for €18 million and later served as an executive at Twitter.

Ms Kerr, a former political journalist, was managing editor at Storyful and last week left her New York-based role at Facebook, where she was manager of journalism partnerships.

“We see this as something that is going to be global in scale,” said Ms Kerr.

The Neva Labs product will be “a layer on top of the social platforms that are there”, she said, adding that the company would “seek out partnerships with the news industry”.

The company is currently self-financed, but Mr Little said it would embark on fundraising in the coming months.

The former RTÉ Washington correspondent and Prime Time presenter said his and Ms Kerr’s experience of the “hard knocks” involved in start-up culture would stand in their favour.

“Financiers are looking for founders who have been there and have the scars to prove it.”