On Odyssey, you might find heartwarming hometown heroes next to political- or issue-based essays about the fear that comes with Donald Trump's inauguration. Or, you might come across a critique of BuzzFeed's decision to make the leaked dossier allegedly connecting Trump to Russia publicly available.
"Before the election, there was a problem with young people not being able to find relatable content," said Evan Burns, Odyssey's CEO and co-founder. "They felt things weren't being covered from their perspective, or that they just weren't being understood. Our site gives a platform for their voices."
He does mean all voices, and Odyssey plans on showing them all to readers as they browse the site. There's an algorithm hidden within Odyssey's website designed to suggest articles that might differ from readers' own points of view. And that, according to Odyssey, is how it "democratizes content."
It's not a major shift in the site's layout; different points of view aren't highlighted in neon letters, but simply putting the option in front of folks seems to have enlightened them a bit. If an essay inspires you to contribute, you're encouraged to react with one of your own. Odyssey expects this to create more thoughtful responses than firing off a heated Facebook comment. All articles contributed to the site go through an editing process with notes so creators can learn what the site's standards are.
One of Odyssey's trending articles this week is an essay from last May called "I Am a Female, and I Am So Sick of Feminists." Next to it is an essay from earlier this month called "To the Women Who Hate Feminism." This comes after a weekend full of protests and marches organized by women around the world and attended by an estimated 4 million people. Context, including opposing points of view, informs contributors and inspires them to express themselves.
"We want to cut out the race to say the funniest or craziest thing on every little topic," Burns said. "Some people are taught, or learn, to seek out other points of view, but not everyone does. That's where those dangerous echo chambers come in."
The new algorithm, which gives readers a 360-degree perspective when they come to the site, launched in the summer of 2016 ahead of the election in order to try and solve that "echo chamber" problem.
Odyssey is largely a platform for college-age creators. Most of its audience is in the 22- to 24-year-old range. And the site, just like colleges, tries to "create a community where it's important to tell stories from all different backgrounds and experiences."
The site sees 30 million engaged millennials each month and creates 50,000 pieces of content on a monthly basis.
"What stood out to us was how people were interacting with our content," David Krupnik, director of research and insight for Odyssey, told Adweek. "Supplying opposing responses to articles on the page allowed creators the chance to respond to that response."
He continued, "We're now creating Venn diagrams that didn't exist before. Conversational chains are being created through these essays, and those differences of responses are important to us."
For Odyssey, this is what differentiates the platform from other blogs or websites where college kids congregate. Fostering a sense of community and encouraging others to stumble upon differing viewpoints is what makes Odyssey unique.
"Getting different people to interact with each other is obviously the road less traveled to a problem that's harder to solve," Eoin Townsend, COO at Odyssey, told Adweek.
"Showing people what they know and expect would be an easy problem to solve," he said, "and our creators have noticed the algorithm a bit, as we can see from their reactions in essays."
Said Evans: "Writers in New York can't write stories on behalf of the people who actually live out there. But by building a stream that's different, you can hear voices and experiences from across the country."