New app developed by USF graduate ‘Bridges’ gaps between people

The cultural diversity at USF inspired graduate Will Cohen to create an app that connects people with seemingly different opinions. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

In our current age, social media has engaged users with the concept of connecting with people who think the way they do and blocking those who have contrary opinions. However, one former USF student has worked on building bridges between those who are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

USF alumnus Will Cohen has co-created a new platform that will be getting people out of the filter bubbles with its non-Facebook qualities.

The soon-to-be launched will eventually be an app, Bridges, which will serve to link people with those who are distinctly different in terms of location, ideologies and beliefs.

Cohen, who graduated in 2006 with a B.A. in advertising, said the idea behind Bridges had much to do with the cultural diversity of USF.

“I got a really great opportunity at USF to learn about other people from different countries who I have never met before,” Cohen said. “It helps change how you see things.”

Cohen said the conversations on social media before the 2016 election also led to the concept of the website and the application.

“If you would post on Facebook or in any other social media, you would primarily only want to talk to people who have the same belief and opinion as you,” Cohen said. “So, we thought it will be an interesting concept to create something that was specifically meant to hear the opposite of what you think.”

When talking about what he saw before the election, Cohen mentioned the personalized filter bubble of isolation where people are contained within their beliefs, ideas and opinions. With a platform that allows for users to be connected to those who are not like them, Cohen said people will learn to primarily understand different perspectives others have.

“This isn’t necessarily trying to change people’s opinions and minds or sway their decisions,” Cohen said. “But, at least create a way where they could respect and understand other people, instead of being intimidated or antagonized.”

Bridges will require users to indicate things like their religious beliefs, political stance, ideologies, location and gender when they sign up. Then the platform will connect with someone with opposite views.

Instead of public conversations that most are accustomed to on social platforms like Facebook, Cohen said Bridges is set up in a way where two people will have a private conversation and they could choose to make it public.

“It’s behind-the-scenes talking, but you have the option to share your conversation if both sides agree to it,” Cohen said.

Cohen said people having private conversations will prove to be effective in helping users understand each other and the implementation of a bridge score will show users the rate in which they are closing the gap between each other.

“Each time people talk, it shows the bridge score and it shows how far in ideologies you guys are and the more you get talking the lower the score gets,” Cohen said.

Along with the bridge score included in the network, Cohen said a community rating system similar to Uber’s will be installed for each person.

“Let’s say there might be people on here that are a little rowdy or not people you really want to talk to, you could rate them just like you do on Uber,” Cohen said. “We don’t want people to go on there and abuse certain platforms with hate speech, threatening (words) or violence.”

Though Bridges is expected to launch sometime next month with its current layout, Cohen said funding is still being raised through sources such as Indiegogo to further the expansion of the platform.

“While we are raising funding, we are also building a version of the site,” Cohen said. “We found a developer, but it won’t be the final project. We’ll still need to raise funding to update product development.”

Bridges will ultimately be available to all those who want to use the social network, but Cohen said he’s set on making the upcoming website and app one that USF students and other colleges could use for educational purposes.

“We are actually positioning Bridges to also be a software in which colleges can use it in their curriculum to help students learn more about diversity,” Cohen said. “We think Bridges in education use is one of the most prime examples of how we can help spread understanding and respect of all people across the globe.”

With a design that’s meant to connect others by their differences, Cohen said he is confident users will penetrate the bubbles they inhabit and reach a mutual respect with those they communicate with.

“If everyone just respected one another, then the world will definitely be a lot better than it is now,” Cohen said.