Curiosity started in January 2014 as Discovery Channel’s attempt at an educational learning app. By November of that same year Gabe Vehovsky, founder and CEO, led the company “away” from Discovery Communications, well, if you consider “away” as in “Discovery Communications is still a major shareholder”. In the press release linked to by their website, the Chicago Tribune refers to them as a “Pandora-like consumer marketplace for knowledge seekers” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/originals/chi-curiosity-spinoff-funding-discovery-communications-bsi-20141111-story.html).
Their original site was simply a collection of “Smart memes” and videos from around the web (https://web.archive.org/web/20141115162726/https://curiosity.com/). These “memes” are pictures with a factoid on it, a paragraph giving some context, a source, and a few videos taken from the internet. It isn’t until 2017 that the term “Smart Memes” disappears, but I really want you to know that someone though “Smart Memes” was a good idea.
Today it is a collection of articles (With no by lines, but assumedly written by the editors doing the curating) that contain links to sources (many of which are scientific studies from scientific journals), a video on youtube for deeper exploration, and a few articles presented to you by advertisers out to both educate you and make money.
Curiosity’s slogan is “Get smarter in just 5 minutes a day” or “Curiosity makes you smarter”.
For those that don’t know, I’ll grade this app on 3 distinct areas:
-Design (Good to look at, easy to use)
-Fun (Does it feel like a chore to do, or like a game)
-Worth (Does it help you do the thing it says it will help you do)
Obviously not everything worth doing is fun, not everything fun is easy to do, and not everything pretty is substantive.
We will be focusing almost entirely on the app version of this site, but I need to show you a little gem on the about page of their website (www.about.curiosity.com). Nevermind you that their about page has very little about what they actually do. No, we’re going to focus on the little detail that they refer to their website, and the word “curiosity” interchangeably with no real explanation which one they are going with at any given time. Case in point, their new slogan, “Curiosity makes you smarter.” Is it the app, or the trait, that does it? Who knows, but if you look at the about page, under “Curiosity” it asks some very important questions. “What is so special about Curiosity? (Notice the capital letter for a proper noun) Is Curiosity good? (There it is again)” Is this link going to tell you about what the app actually does, as a grammatically correct proper noun for the site’s name would imply? No. It’s an article about the trait of “curiosity”. We’ll get to this weird “what exactly is it they do?” in the worth section. But, for now, let’s focus on that little design tidbit.
The app design is extremely simple. Select a date at the top and it will give you the five articles the curators selected for that day. Just scroll down to see them. The articles are well edited, with good source placement, and a short, effective length that takes only a minute or two to pique your Curiosity (Do I mean the app or the trait. WHO KNOWS?). From there they provide videos, tags, and links that will help you delve deeper into a topic you are interested in. They even make it abundantly clear which articles are sponsored articles, and I greatly appreciate that.
It’s a simple, newspaper worthy, design that makes it easy to read content and go from there: A
I’m at odds with how to rate the fun of this app. The articles, on the whole, aren’t boring. There’s one editor especially who writes his opening paragraph with either a pinch of salt or a cup of sass. They’re mostly about interesting topics, and are a length that is easy to read while I’m waiting in line for coffee. And the videos are almost always interesting, but those videos aren’t theirs, and I don’t feel good about giving them full points for just showing me a cool video. Curiosity felt like reading a more reliable version of Buzzfeed. I wouldn’t call it fun, but I would say it was entertaining.
Curiosity isn’t a game, but it’s also not a textbook: C+
Do I feel smarter? I’m not sure. Curiosity is like going onto Wikipedia and clicking the “random article” button. Sure, I know more information about a topic, I’m given a breadth of sources which can justify how I ultimately absorb the knowledge, and I’m able to delve as deeply as I want, but I’m not engaging with anything. Most of those articles are going to be little pockets of memory that I barely remember, although there are a few that stick with me. Their sponsored content is also well defined, and well sourced. You know from the beginning what you are looking at and are able to temper your thoughts properly.
And that really leaves me open to the question of “what exactly is it that they do here?” All their about page says is that they “create and curate engaging topics for millions of lifelong learners worldwide.” No explanation of how, no by lines for their authors, and no real mission statement. But their multitude of sources, and handy third party youtube videos, never made me feel like I was being fed false information. It’s like reading a more reliable version of buzzfeed, or the “trending” section on facebook. I even enjoyed looking deeper into the scientific studies they linked to.
Numerous articles refer to “courses” they offer, and compare them to Khan Academy or Coursea, but in their own words they are a “Spotify” or a “Pandora” of knowledge. (https://venturebeat.com/2014/01/14/discovery-unveils-curiosity-com-to-inspire-everyday-learning-exclusive/ , http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/originals/chi-curiosity-spinoff-funding-discovery-communications-bsi-20141111-story.html , http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/curiosity/ )
It’s a good place for articles that are interesting, and factually based, but not much more: B-
In the end I don’t think this is an app that really belonged on this show. It touted daily use as a means towards improvement, but it’s just a “smart buzzfeed”. You’ll learn some cool stuff, you’ll have a good time doing it, but it’s only real use is as a jumping off point for deeper learning. But, it’s free, it’s easy to use, and you might find some long term use out of it: B