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Four South Bay college students win X developers challenge

Santa Clara University students create feature for X social media platform that promotes honesty, di
Santa Clara University students create feature for X social media platform that promotes honesty, di 03:42

Four Santa Clara University students won first place in a developers challenge for the social media platform X this spring by pitching new features to check the truthfulness of content and provide more perspectives on any given topic. 

They worked together as a team during a marathon weekend competition before presenting their idea to the company's owner, Elon Musk.

"When we saw this challenge, it felt like the perfect opportunity to build a really cool product for an app that we all love," said Neel Valeti, a junior at SCU studying economics and computer science from Oakland. "It was really awesome, it's not every day you get to have an experience like that and it was even better to be able to share with him and hear his thoughts on it."

Tushar Shrivastav found the competition while scrolling through the platform formerly known as Twitter, and told the group they should compete as a team. They spent 30 hours at the company's headquarters, working nonstop on their product. The challenge only specified for them to create a cool feature or app that improves the user experience; the team decided they wanted to take on bias and accuracy, while encouraging more opinions with differing views.

"You know, you can't really see a diverse viewpoint a lot of times, they make your feed like the same viewpoint so you kind of get stuck in the echo chamber," Shrivastav, a computer science major from Saratoga, told KPIX. "So we kind of built an extension that gives more detail about a user."

They named their product InsightX. It offers multiple features in the desktop extension for X, including a way to see someone's history of posts, and a way to measure how truthful that post is based on their history. The other key feature they proposed was an "All Angles" function to go with their analysis of someone's post. This additional service would find others posts sharing different opinions on the same topic as the initial post you interacted with on X.

"We kind of just went with the idea of, you know, we love using X, so we just want to build a really cool product that could help other people out," said Naveen Govindaraju, a senior computer science major from Cupertino. "Oh, it was amazing, it was a great experience. [Elon's] an extremely down to earth nice guy, he asked a lot of questions about the product, you know, he's extremely understanding, spent the time out of his like busy day to come and speak, so I was extremely grateful for that."

The team said they were not aware that Musk would be part of the competition at first. The owner of the platform appeared by video conference call, so teams could explain their ideas while he watched.

"I think the energy in that room when he joined that meeting was very intense and we didn't know what to expect but then he's just very good at breaking that barrier and making it a very fun call," said Karan Parikh, a junior computer science and finance major from San Jose. "I think you see his public perception and you see the way he acts, he's just really like funny, hands free guy, and the moment he came into the call he was just making jokes through our presentation."

The competition comes months after Musk marked one year of taking over the company. Various reports have suggested that the platform has lost many users in that time, but Musk and X have claimed record levels of usage since last fall and even as recently as this month. The students say they don't know if the company will use their idea in any way, but felt assured by the competition itself that the company wants to do better for its users.

"I think especially now in the climate that we're in, it could be extremely helpful, it's something that, you know, all people using the platform I think have some type of core struggle with," Govindaraju said.

Parikh said he found himself using the app a lot just in the past six months, especially for his areas of study, and notices other students using X on campus. He thinks X will become more popular among younger users as they seek out information and opinions on a variety of topics.

"It's been amazing for me, I feel like I get all my news from there, I learned about how the markets are doing, I learn about new technologies," he told KPIX. Parikh says it is possible to get contrasting views on the platform even though some feel it keeps people immersed in similar opinions. "It's just a constant feed of information and what I love about X is just how the algorithm shows you so many different perspectives when you scroll through."

Critics of all social media companies have questioned their motivations, suggesting that profits come before safety. They have also scrutinized whether these platforms go far enough with content moderation. These students are aware of those concerns, but remain hopeful that the technology, and the people in charge of it, will do better for everyone.

"They're trying and they're making lots of positive progress towards where they want to be," said Valeti. 

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