Introducing Koko

Last week, Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times mused in his column that the Internet was getting meaner:

“If you’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook in the waning weeks of 2015, you’ve surely noticed that the Internet now seems to be on constant boil.  Your social feed has always been loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly, but this year everything has been turned up to 11”.

It’s hard to argue the point. The question is, are we seeing the inevitable end state of an open permissionless medium, or is this just an ugly adolescence – one that we as a society will struggle through to reach a much better place.

We know the Internet can create amazing social value, by using collective intelligence to organize the world’s knowledge and making it immediately accessible. Google, Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, and Duolingo have shown us that. But it is nice, at times like these, to be reminded that the Internet can also bring out the best in people.

We are pleased to announce today that we are investing alongside Joi Ito  in Koko, an app that does just that. Koko uses an innovative form of crowdsourced cognitive therapy to help everyone manage the day to day stress of modern life.

While doing PhD work at the MIT Media Lab, Koko co-founder Rob Morris wondered if crowdsourcing could be used to improve people’s mental health and emotional well-being. To test his thesis, he built a platform to crowdsource cognitive therapy helping people facing stressful situations to rethink the causes of their stress by putting their situations in a more positive light.  As a part of this thesis work, Rob conducted a clinical trial and recently published the results in a leading medical journal. The bottom line – it works. The use of the platform significantly improved mental health outcomes compared to a control group. Most interestingly, the people who helped the participants rethink their situations, were not trained professionals. They were other participants in the trial or Mechanical Turk workers who received minimal on the fly training. But the most exciting part was that the people who provided the most help on the system appeared to benefit the most. Perhaps this should not be a surprise – it makes sense that helping someone think more flexibly and positively about their life naturally reinforces one’s ability to do the same in their life.

Here is what a few of the early users have to say about Koko:

“Every time I use the app – whether to post my own struggles, rethink someone’s post, or just read others’ replies – my ability to rethink situations gets stronger. Koko shows that changing your viewpoint *changes everything.*”

“The biggest benefit of Koko, other than feeling like part of a caring community, is that I find myself thinking differently and it’s really made an impact in my life and my overall sense of wellbeing.”

“Koko is real brain training with the real human problems. Whether it’s defining your own problems or using your lateral thinking to help someone else rethink theirs or just plain learning from others. All done in confidence and support.”

All of us at Union Square Ventures are thrilled that we have been able to support Rob, and his co-founders, Fraser Kelton, and Kareem Kouddous’ effort to bring Rob’s work to a much larger audience. Koko is now available as an app for the iPhone (Android is in the works). If you are dealing with stress (and who isn’t), I encourage you to download the app and join the community that is helping themselves by helping others. If nothing else, it will remind you that the Internet can make a real positive, and lasting difference in people’s lives.

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