It’s time to flare.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made at Matter, the team we’ve built, and the people that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to explore.

As all Matter entrepreneurs know, venture design is a process that consists of a series of flaring and focusing, knowing how and when to explore and knowing how and when to execute. In a flare, you uncritically explore and ideate; when you’re focusing, you filter and execute on your ideas. Successful venture designers do that as many times as possible as they create a venture that is feasible, viable, and desirable. I call this journey “The Drunken Walk of the Entrepreneur.

Recently I’ve come to the realization that for the last 7 years I have been in extreme focus mode. Since starting Matter from scratch in 2012, Matter has raised 2 venture funds, run 8 accelerator cohorts, invested in 73 portfolio companies, brought together 12 institutional media and technology partners, delivered 5 partner accelerator programs, trained local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific through Open Matter, assembled a network of 340 mentors, established media innovation spaces and communities in both SF and NYC, and built a team of extraordinary human beings on both coasts. We’ve proven that our repeatable and scalable venture design process works. Matter startups have raised over $53M and have been acquired by companies like Snap, Buzzfeed, and Kickstarter. In this tough early-stage media space, Matter startups have proven to be resilient, with 84% of our Fund II companies still operating or achieving an exit. And, in an industry with a terrible track record of diversity and inclusion, 50% of our Fund II founder CEOs are women and 40% are people of color.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made, the team we’ve built, and the people and organizations that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to flare.

For the last two years I have tried to secure Matter’s future. While I succeeded at figuring out how to successfully expand Matter and its unique culture to NYC and to tranform Matter into an organization that could continue to operate if I were hit by a bus, I have yet to successfully raise Matter Fund III and we’ve come to the end of our runway.

As the investment period for Matter Fund II has now come to a close, I have decided to pause raising Matter Fund III and take a step back to decide where I want to take Matter and, most importantly, what I want to pour myself into next. That could take many forms, from deciding to raise Matter Fund III with a different strategy, to pivoting Matter to a services business, to starting my next company, to taking a leadership role at an existing company in media, venture capital, technology, education, or government. The whole point is I need to flare — get out into the world, have lots of conversations, and generate multiple directions before focusing on one. So if you’re up for exploring possibilities, let’s talk.

Up until this exact moment I haven’t allowed myself to think about anything besides figuring out how to keep Matter alive. Matter is my baby. And I have made the classic (and inevitable) founder mistake of intertwining my identity and my self-worth with the identity and the success of Matter. That’s not healthy. That’s why I need to take a step back. So I am allowing myself to separate the two as I explore potential futures for myself in which Matter continues — and in which it doesn’t.

I’ve been focusing too long. It’s time to flare.

The practical implications of this are that the Matter accelerator program is on pause indefinitely and I have knocked down our burn rate to the studs. The Matter spaces in SF and NYC have been subleased and, effective February 1, the full-time Matter team will just be me. I will continue to support our portfolio of 73 companies across our two funds. I may also continue to provide Matter services like bootcamps, workshops, consulting, coaching, and speaking. I will do this full-time for now but this may shift to part-time in the future depending on how my personal exploration takes shape.

I don’t make this decision lightly. In fact, I’ve been struggling with it for the last 6 months. But if there’s one lesson that all Matter entrepreneurs know, it’s that sometimes you have to “Kill Your Puppies” in order to truly make your venture succeed. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I still fundamentally believe in Matter’s mission to support early-stage entrepreneurs and leaders within essential institutions of journalism to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Journalism and democracy are now under attack around the world. Social media giants have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of their users and of democracy. Mission-driven media entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever to build alternatives and to strengthen our media ecosystem. And existing media institutions need to become more resilient by transforming their culture. The world is moving so fast that media organizations will only be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in the future if they focus on building culture, people, and processes that enable them to constantly be understanding the needs and behaviors of their audiences, leveraging emerging technologies, and seeking sustainable business models. That starts and ends with culture.

Matter is a community and it is a community that will continue. I am forever grateful to each and every one of you who have made the last seven years of the Matter accelerator program possible. Our founding institutional partners, KQED, Knight Foundation, and PRX, and my co-founder, Jake Shapiro, made a huge bet on me when Matter was only a crazy idea on a whiteboard. After we proved out our process for entrepreneurs in Fund I, The Associated Press, McClatchy, CNHI, and AH Belo made a bet on us that we could expand those offerings to our partners in Fund II. And when we decided to expand to NYC, The New York Times, Tribune Publishing, and Tamedia made a bet on us that we could successfully replicate our model and, most importantly, our culture in a new city. Steve Grove of the Google News Initiative has had our back at every step of the way, first by becoming our technology partner, then by supporting our expansion to NYC, and then by enabling us to offer our Open Matter Bootcamps to local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific. And Google for Startups has connected us into a startup community that has enabled us to learn best practices from around the world.

I am thankful for the entrepreneurs from our 73 portfolio companies for trusting us to invest in their companies and guide them on their journeys. We may have been investing in them but they were the ones really betting on us. Entrepreneurship is hard. I see the grit and determination and creativity of founders every single day. The highs are high and the lows are low and the chances of failure are almost certain. I believe many of our investments will succeed in fulfilling their bold visions AND the truth of the matter is that most entrepreneurs we invest in will fail. It’s the nature of the beast. But regardless of whether their business venture succeeds, I know that the Matter experience has transformed each and every founder who has come through our door and I believe in the impact that these incredible humans will have in their current venture, their next venture, or in leadership positions at the most influential organizations throughout media and technology. That is success.

We have built an incredible team at Matter and the thing I most regret is that I haven’t found a way to keep this team together. Everyone who chose to work at Matter made a bet on me and I’m grateful for that. Each of our employees has made me a better leader and a better person through their example, their empathy, their creativity, their grit, and their gifts of feedback. Lara Ortiz-Luis, Ben Werdmuller, Pete Mortensen, Roxann Stafford, Josh Lucido, Liz Kopp Morrison, Shereen Adel, Lindsay Abrams, Kourtney Bitterly, Nikita Shamdasani, Rebecca Bowring Radnaev, and Jigar Mehta, I hope to work with each and every one of you again one day. Thanks also to our Google News Lab Fellows, our Morehead-Cain Scholars, and our Stanford GSB Associates who got thrown in the deep end every summer and thrived as true members of our team.

I am also thankful for the guidance of Matter Advisory Board members past and present who have been the sounding board for Matter’s strategy and have given me encouragement and confidence through Matter’s own drunken walk. I am especially thankful for the steadfast support and guidance from Jake Shapiro, Jim Kennedy, Tim Olson, Andy Pergam, John Boland, Kerri Hoffman, Steve Grove, Jake Smilovitz, Nick Rockwell, Jeremey Gockel, Pat Talamantes, Craig Forman, Matthew Ipsan, Nicki Purcell, John Bracken, Ben Wirz, and Pietro Supino.

Finally, I want to thank our mentors — 340 strong! — who volunteered their time, their advice, their personal narratives, their “gloves off” feedback, and their connections. Matter’s core team has always been small and you were the leverage that made Matter possible.

Thank you all for creating a community that continues to change media for good. Onward.

Thank you, Matter.

It’s six o’clock on a Friday morning in June. No, I’m not blissfully catching up on rest ahead of a homework-filled weekend in Chapel Hill. Instead, I find myself coordinating coffee deliveries, finalizing space setup, and extinguishing every small fire in sight before entrepreneurs arrive. Months of mindful planning are reaching their zenith — Matter Eight Demo Day.

Me smiling to mask my Demo Day exhaustion

My name is Matt and for the past nine weeks I’ve been a Program Intern at Matter. That means I observed firsthand the grueling efforts Matter Eight entrepreneurs invested to prepare for demo day. Beginning with Design Review 3 the week I joined Matter, and continuing through speaker series, office hours, and feedback sessions, I witnessed the core of Matter’s approach: to be on the cutting edge of design thinking, entrepreneurship, and media.

Before officially starting at Matter, I had only an abstract conception of what it means to be a mission-driven for-profit organization. The notion didn’t quite jive with the world I encountered previously. I currently serve as the President of the Board of Directors for the Daily Tar Heel, one of the oldest and most respected college media organizations in the country. Perhaps because of my experience in a nonprofit organization, my mind associates the words ‘mission-driven’ with nonprofits or poorly performing companies, stumbling to reconcile its mission with its margins. I was a skeptic. Fortunately, nine weeks of learning, doing, observing, and failing convinced me that thriving mission-driven companies like Matter not only exist, they are essential to economic and societal health.

Corey Ford, Matter’s Managing Director, put it best when he said this:

“We believe you can do good and do well. In fact, in this climate, we believe that if you don’t start by doing good, you will not do well.”
Corey Ford introducing Matter Eight teams at Demo Day in San Francisco

My summer also taught me that Matter’s staff actively practices the design thinking principles they preach — and they really do work. We regularly engage in ideation, feedback, empathy, prototyping, failing forward, and everything in between. And although the process didn’t feel natural at first (like I said, I was skeptic), I now can’t imagine work and innovation happening any other way. I believe that human-centered design is the most efficient and reliable way to build products for human use. Otherwise, you’re just throwing dull imaginary darts at a dartboard of faceless imaginary users. You’re designing specifically for yourself. Or worse yet, you’re trying to design for everyone.

Back to that caffeine-fueled June morning. If you were in the room on demo day, you certainly experienced, as I did, what Matter is all about. Matter invests in early stage media startups that are working to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Each founder that presented is dedicated to at least one of those goals.

On Demo Day, the first entrepreneur began her pitch directly after Corey’s introduction. Hebah Fisher is the founder and CEO of Kerning Cultures, a podcast dedicated to storytelling in the Middle East. For people living outside of the region, Kerning Cultures aims to upend stereotypes perpetuated by media portrayals of Middle Eastern and North African politics. For Middle Eastern listeners, Kerning Cultures tells stories that people can see themselves in. The stories that Hebah and her team tell inform audiences, construct empathy, and include voices that aren’t represented in traditional Middle Eastern media outlets.

Hebah Fisher presenting at Matter Eight Demo Day in San Francisco

The twelve Matter Eight teams have little in common beyond this: they are building a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Every pitch after Hebah’s shared these themes.

Sadly, my time at Matter is quickly coming to a close this week. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to intern at Matter, an environment that is lively, interesting, and ever changing. Matter has the perfect blend of expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and whimsy. On my first day I was told to embrace any task, big or small. That’s exactly what happens here each day.

My departure from Matter is bittersweet. It’s bitter in the sense that I no longer get the chance to work alongside the amazing, passionate Matter community every day. But I do get to carry my experiences back to UNC and the Daily Tar Heel for my senior year. In a futile attempt to summarize all that I’ve learned during my time here, I’m left with this: Do good, do well, and always stick to your values.

Thank you, Matter.

8 Ways Matter Eight is Changing the Future of Media

Our eighth cohort is moving onward and upward. We anticipate great things.

Matter kicked off 2018 with a new cohort of intelligent, capable entrepreneurs with big visions for the media companies they had begun to build. The teams came through our garage doors in February at different stages of development, and over the past five months, they incorporated design thinking principles into their work, iterated their businesses time and time again, and embraced the principle of failing fast to fail forward. Yet that barely scratches the surface of what Matter Eight accomplished.

At the core of each of these startups is a firmly-held belief that this thing needs to exist. Though the cycle ends with Demo Day, the experiment is just beginning for these entrepreneurs.

Here are eight ways Matter Eight companies push the boundaries of what’s possible in tech and media.

1. Giving underrepresented creators new ways to be seen, heard, and discovered

DeShuna Spencer, Founder & CEO of kweliTV

Media plays a central role in determining how we perceive cultures that are different from our own. In order to create a more equitable society, cross-cultural representations must be accurate, empathetic, and accessible. Matter Eight startups kweliTV and Kerning Cultures tell broad stories that go beyond the usual narrative, replacing negative or inaccurate stereotypes of black and Middle Eastern cultures with authentic stories from creators who have previously been left out of the conversation, while Scriptd creates a new channel of discovery for such creators.

2. Changing your news consumption habits for the better

Compass News Co-Founders Mayank Banerjee and Matilde Gigli

Revitalizing journalism is at the core of our mission here at Matter. In 2015, the American Press Institute reported 88 percent of millennials consumed news on Facebook regularly — yet it wasn’t until 2016 that the polls exposed just how splintered our democracy had become. Facebook and other social media platforms create filter bubbles that conflict with one of journalism’s fundamental principles, objectivity, help spread fake news, and hasten the decline of civility on the web.

On the surface, Compass News and would appear to have conflicting missions: the former is using technology to summarize the news, while the latter is using technology to hold users to task for reading articles to completion.

Compass News, however, is simply meeting its millennial users where they are, delivering news in a format that works for them. The team uses machine learning technology to transform the much-loathed news app experience, valuing personalization but also providing a breadth of topics and opinions.

By developing a “FitBit for reading,” on the other hand, is promoting media literacy, and building a community that highlights commenters who demonstrate their breadth and depth of their reading habits. Through two very different routes, both companies are contributing to our mission of creating a more informed society.

3. Getting you the personalized information you need, when you need it

Courtney Snavely, Co-Founder of Ovee

Expediency and personalization are no longer “nice to haves.” Instead, they are increasingly expected by consumers.

With its AI editor, Compass News is able to personalize its newsfeed for individual users’ interests. Ovee is another product designed to be incorporated into the user’s regular routine. Ovee harnesses both the anonymity and the flexibility of mobile technology to connect young women with accessible and reliable information about their sexual health.

4. Reimagining the way we engage with brands, and they with us

Matter Eight companies Paytime and Tangible solve pervasive industry ailments: reaching and engaging customers. Paytime takes a simple principle (“Time is money”) and turns it into a new way of paying for subscriptions, where advertisers have the opportunity to engage directly with users and users are given control over the information they share with those advertisers. Tangible gives ecommerce companies a way to reach customers “IRL”, harnessing direct mail to provide a more valuable and memorable way to interact with users.

Paytime CEO Ignacio Linares

5. Restoring value to digital ads

Paytime attracts much-coveted millennial audiences with the promise of transparency and a fair return on investment. Advertisers are mining data regardless, but through Paytime the user is in control, and directly benefits from engaging with a brand of their choice.

Optimera maximizes ad revenue through its suite of solutions that optimize for viewability, a concept that plagues publishers and advertisers alike. Founder Keith Candiotti explains the conundrum the two parties currently face in this Medium post: “Consider for a moment that 70% of all ads on the internet were not seen but 100% were paid for by advertisers. Or another way to put it, in a 36 billion dollar a year industry, $25 billion was wasted.” The high viewability standards advertisers now demand as a result is hurting publishers. Optimera’s platform solves this tedious issue for time-strapped publishers with a few lines of Javascript code.

6. Cutting through the red tape to ensure decision makers listen to their users–and their employees

LedBetter CEO Iris Kuo

Although the past year has demonstrated technology’s potential to both threaten and facilitate democracy, we at Matter believe in utilizing technology to address problems of access and integrity. One Matter Eight company that embodies this ideal is LedBetter, which combats all-too-frequent occurrences of workplace discrimination, starting with its gender equality index. LedBetter helps companies collect and report on their leadership diversity, and gives them the tools they need to improve their company culture. It offers potential hires insight grounded in data and qualitative analysis and puts PR jargon to the test.

Targeting diversity in the entertainment industry, Scriptd also connects leaders with their audiences. From discovery to optioning, Scriptd serves as the connective tissue between production companies and talented writers tha might otherwise go unheard.

7. Harnessing emerging technologies to help you search for what you want — and need

nēdl CEO Ayinde Alakoye

In today’s content-saturated media climate, optimizing according to SEO best practices isn’t sufficient — particularly for smaller publishers competing against household names with national and global reach. More than half of web users find content through organic search, yet only five percent of users click beyond Google’s first page. nēdl puts the power of broadcast in everyone’s hands, democratizing a long-static industry. On the nēdl app, users can easily search and stream live radio, as well as create their own stations anytime, anywhere.

As the post-mobile world approaches, everyday utilities are being reimagined beyond the typical constraints of a screen. Drop, which designs information spaces in VR, is one of several companies working to humanize virtual reality. Browsing doesn’t have to be a phone-in-hand, eyes-glued-to-screen activity. Drop demonstrates that it is already becoming immersive.

8. Changing media for good

Everything we do at Matter comes back to this central mission. And it’s one that is more important now than ever before.

Matter Eight entrepreneurs are designing the future of media with a fierce commitment to sharing knowledge, valuing diverse perspectives, and leading with empathy. Despite Demo Day marking the end of their time at Matter, each team’s passion for their unique causes will drive their next steps of development.

We know we’ll be following along, and we hope you will, too.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E7: Jill Koziol – Co-Founder, Motherly

Jill Koziol, Co-Founder and CEO of Motherly (and Matter Five alum!), joined us in San Francisco for a conversation with Matter Eight entrepreneurs. Pete Mortensen, Director of Program in San Francisco, talked with Jill about the incredible growth that Motherly has seen over the last few years.

Initially, Jill says, their growth was slow, but steady. By staying the course with conviction and always going back to their user—a digitally native, Millennial mom who is learning to parent in very different circumstances than previous generations—they built something that resonated. And over time, because they deeply understand her needs, they saw a huge spike in users without pouring tons of money into advertising.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E6: Deepa Subramanian- Co-founder, Wherewithall

The Drunken Walk is a series of live fireside chats, blog posts, and podcasts from Matter Ventures, the world’s only independent startup accelerator for media entrepreneurs.

Our eighth accelerator class is underway in San Francisco and New York City. Learn more about our amazing teams.

Join the conversation about the future of media by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course here on Medium!

Sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on our program and portfolio.

Enough is enough. It’s time to support startups that respect our rights.

Surveillance is not a requirement. We’re looking for scrappy entrepreneurs trying to build something better.

It’s hard to avoid the headlines. The personal information of tens of millions of people was scraped by a political consultant campaign, using the API of the world’s largest social network. There was no data breach; there were no hackers. The information taken from the API as designed, which was there in the first place to support a targeted advertising business model with a goal of growth at all costs.

This event wasn’t alone. It would be naïve to assume that there had only been one solitary personality test that used this data. Aggressive data gathering has become commonplace. Even in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook again drew fire for storing facial recognition data without consent. And Facebook is far from the only tech company guilty of such activities.

It would be easy to blame the tech industry for these abuses of trust — and we should. But at Matter, we know that there are entrepreneurs and startups who are actively trying to create a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society. There are ventures engaged in the business of supporting democracy. They’re out there, fighting against the tide to build something better. They know that technology, used well, can empower communities, not undermine and divide them. They know it’s not just about good intentions: it’s about deeply understanding the implications of your work. And we know this because they apply to join our program every single day.

A community changing media for good

Our five-month, immersive accelerator in San Francisco and New York City helps entrepreneurs de-risk their businesses through a culture of rapid, prototype-driven experimentation. We help you understand your users and your venture holistically, test your core assumptions, and land on something that resonates, is feasible, and is a viable business.

That’s important for every venture — but it’s particularly important when you’re mission-driven. You can have all the goodwill in the world, but if you’re building something that aims to do good, you have a responsibility to make it viable. If you want to make an impact tomorrow, you should want to be continuing to make waves two years from now. We want to help you do well while doing good.

We believe the seeds of the next great media institutions will be planted by courageous entrepreneurs who make the leap to build ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people.

This moment is too important to let slide. We’ve always made it clear that we’re looking for the next generation of ventures that will remake the technology industry into one that supports inclusion, empathy, and safety. And now it’s more important than ever.

A human-centered program that aligns you with your users

Recently, Anil Dash wrote in 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech:

We can be thoughtfully skeptical and critical of modern tech products and companies without having to believe that most people who create tech are “bad”. Having met tens of thousands of people around the world who create hardware and software, I can attest that the cliché that they want to change the world for the better is a sincere one. Tech creators are very earnest about wanting to have a positive impact.

Wanting to make a positive impact is one thing. Ensuring that you do is another.

Matter’s program gives you the tools to holistically understand your user — and your venture. Our version of design thinking aligns you on a fundamental level with the people you’re trying to help. Rather than harvesting their data, or engaging in an ad blocking arms race with them, we can help you find business models that meet their deep, unmet needs, while allowing you to grow and reach profitability.

The Matter Nine program

Matter is all about testing and experimentation. The pillars of our program are Design Reviews: closed, safe spaces where you can get feedback on the vital characteristics of your venture. You will tell the story of your startup in the form of a narrative, and receive gloves-off, honest feedback from a panel of experts and invited attendees.

Nothing leaves the room; everybody understands that your venture is a work in progress; you decide which feedback you want to act on (after all, it’s your venture). But at the end of the session you have far more data than you had before.

Then, together with a community that will keep you accountable, you set goals that will guide you to the next Design Review.

In between, you meet one-on-one with members of our network of hundreds of mentors, hear the stories of invited speakers who have been down this entrepreneurial path before, participate in workshops around vital topics like revenue models and user journeys, and test and share with your fellow entrepreneurs as part of a weekly event we call a Shareout.

This is all in service of helping you to perform rapid tests, get feedback quickly, and use what you learn to propel you forwards at an accelerated pace by aligning you with your users. We’ve proven that the model de-risks startups and helps them find success. And in today’s climate, we think it’s more important than ever that the ventures that shape the future will support democracy and help to build a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society.

Apply today. Applications are still open. You need a team, a working prototype, and a deck. We’re excited to meet you.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E5: Jennifer Brandel— CEO, Hearken

For this week’s speaker series, we were lucky to welcome a longtime member of our community back to Matter. Jennifer Brandel, CEO of Hearken and Matter Four entrepreneur, joined us in New York City where she and Roxann Stafford, our Director of Program there, sat down to talk about her “Drunken Walk” as an entrepreneur who really sought to change the way journalists tell stories.

Hearken has turned journalism on its head by actually bringing audiences into the reporting process. It provides journalists the tools they need to ask people what they want to know before going out into the field. Hearken really opens up newsrooms to find out the real questions in their communities and create more inclusive content.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E4: Caitlin Kalinowski — Oculus VR (rebroadcast)

The Drunken Walk is a series of live fireside chats, blog posts, and podcasts from Matter Ventures, the world’s only independent startup accelerator for media entrepreneurs.

Applications are open for Matter Nine! Find out more here.

Meanwhile, our eight accelerator class is currently underway in San Francisco and New York City. Learn more about our amazing teams.

Join the conversation about the future of media by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course here on Medium!

Sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on our program and portfolio.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E3: Kaitlyn Jankowski— theSkimm

The Drunken Walk is a series of live fireside chats, blog posts, and podcasts from Matter Ventures, the world’s only independent startup accelerator for media entrepreneurs.

Our eight accelerator class is underway in San Francisco and New York City. Learn more about our amazing teams.

Join the conversation about the future of media by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course here on Medium!

Sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on our program and portfolio.

Voice and ambient computing — for good

Ten years ago, with the introduction of the iPhone, the transition to mobile computing began in earnest — a transition that changed the way all of us access the internet, learn about the world, and think about becoming informed. 85% of Americans get their news on a mobile device.

This year, a new transition is well underway. It could bring a new level of convenience and control to our lives, or it could represent the normalization of ubiquitous surveillance. It’s too early to tell — and the outcome is up to us.

Smart speakers — the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod — will have a place in over half of American households within the next four years. (Right now, 18% of Americans aged 12+ have access to one.) But that’s just a small portion of the change; between wearable devices like the AirPods, and installations across phones, tablets, and computers, over a billion devices in use today have voice assistant functionality. Speech recognition accuracy hit 95% last year, it continues to improve at a rapid pace. Half of all searches are expected to be conducted with voice by 2020.

Assistants don’t necessarily need to communicate with words. Just as my Apple Watch sends me a haptic tap in order to tell me I should think about taking cover from the rain, a whole new set of calm technology principles are guiding the design of apps that inform us without seizing our attention or forcing us to look at a screen.

However they communicate with us, assistants will change the way we interact with information — and how it is proactively reported to us. Some will come with us in our ears, on our wrists, or, yes, through our phones. Others will be in our homes, offices and cars — built into our ambient environments — and will recognize us as we enter a space. This presents new, exciting opportunities for services that interact with their users conversationally.

The challenge will be to build tools that provide the right information to the right person at the right time, securely, while respecting their privacy.

Last year, as part of a murder investigation, Arkansas police demanded that Amazon turn over Alexa recordings from a suspect’s home. The company resisted, but as Wired reported at the time:

Amazon’s effort to protect the data your Echo collects by invoking the First Amendment is commendable, but the company has failed to address the real problem: Why is all that data just sitting in Amazon’s servers in the first place? The brief Amazon filed in the Arkansas court confirms that the company saves the recordings and transcripts of your dialogue with Alexa on servers where “all data is protected during transmission and securely stored.” So should we just trust that Amazon’s servers are impenetrable?

The issue is not just that this information might be used in ways we don’t expect. People behave differently when they know they’re being observed, and are less likely to exercise their right to free speech. This is particularly true in more vulnerable communities — exactly the people whose voices should be amplified and empowered by new technology.

A world of always-on microphones and intelligent cameras has the potential to make us all more informed — but it also has the potential to build a new layer of surveillance that creates a chilling effect and suppresses free speech. Ethical technologists can help ensure that these new technologies are open to all voices and respectful of our privacy needs. By being intentional about how we design products and signpost their stewardship of our rights and data, these technologists can harness these new technologies while protecting users and safeguarding freedom of speech.

We want to support those technologists. If you’re using voice or ambient technology to create the next generation of apps that will make us more informed, close empathy gaps in our society, or make the world more inclusive, we want to hear from you. Applications for Matter are open now.