Terra Incognita

Code, Data Visualization, Media Innovation

“Terra Incognita: 1000 Cities of the World” was my thesis project for the MIT Media Lab in 2014. It is a serendipitous global news recommendation system designed to help people out of their personalized media filter bubbles. Critics have articulated numerous concerns about the shifting media landscape and its potential impact on informed decision-making. Algorithms may suppress content that corporations have decided an individual will not like (Pariser, 2012). Individuals may self-select only information that is agreeable to them and end up in informational gated communities, (Sunstein, 2002) a phenomenon known as “selective exposure”. Our tendency towards homophily- seeking out people like us- is as true in cyberspace as it is in face-to-face interactions (Zuckerman, 2013).

Terra Incognita is a speculative design intervention that took up this challenge in relation to the geographic diversity of information an individual reads. The main user experience of Terra Incognita is an intervention into your Internet browsing. Technically, it is an extension for the Chrome browser which you can download from the Chrome Web Store.

Once installed, Terra Incognita becomes the default screen for every new browser window you open. Each time you open a new Tab, Terra Incognita shows you a city that you have not yet read about and gives you options for reading about it. Chelyabinsk (Russia), Hiroshima (Japan), Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast) are a few of the places that you might end up reading about.

More about Terra Incognita:

Terra Incognita was completed with contributions from Matt Stempeck, Chunhua Zhang, and my awesome advisor Ethan Zuckerman.