“I just want to help people to have a healthy relationship with social media,” says CEO and Cofounder Dr. Britain Taylor about ShuffleMe, a predictive software app that helps people track the impact of social media on their mental health.
Taylor has been working toward this mission since long before Twitter wars, the pandemic, and doomscrolling. She’s invested eleven years in preparing herself: she holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and neuroscience, an MBA in behavior and marketing, a masters in industrial and systems engineering, and now, at Indiana University, is completing a PhD in intelligent systems engineering. Taylor is a member of The Mill, a nonprofit startup accelerator in Bloomington, and won The Mill’s 2020 Spark Business Plan Competition.
An early adopter of the first social media platforms—in 2004 she was the 16th user on MySpace, where she had over a million followers—Taylor grew up hacking and coding. In those days, social media was very different, Taylor says, without much cyberbullying.
By 2011, Facebook had exploded. “Facebook gave you more options to actually talk to each other,” Taylor says. “So a lot of my friends started using Facebook to express their emotions. And now that I’m older, I realize some of them were reaching out for help.” By the time Taylor was 18, she had lost three friends by suicide. In fact, the CDC has reported that between 2007 and 2016 (years of tremendous growth in social media usage) rates of suicide among young people jumped 56 percent.
“I told myself, there has to be a way around this. I told myself that I was going to college, and I was going to stay in college as long as possible to build some sort of solution,” says Taylor.
Her solution, an app called ShuffleMe, is still in beta testing. Users download the app and give it access to their webcams. From there the app runs in the background, tracking social media activity against facial expressions, and recording patterns in emotional responses. A dashboard then shows users which social media channels and specific content have impacted their mood, thus empowering them to make specific, effective changes to their social feeds, their behavior, and ultimately, Taylor hopes, their happiness.
ShuffleMe addresses privacy concerns head-on. User data is only used to create the dashboard report, then deleted from the server immediately. “The beautiful thing is that our younger generation is so obsessed with data,” Taylor says. “They’re like, ‘What are you doing with my data, with my phone?’ That’s a plus. You want to know what that data means. And you want to see if some data can actually help you.”
The app uses algorithms and a face classifier, based on research on universal facial expressions and trained on over a million people, to connect your facial reactions to social media to specific emotions. It achieves 98.9% accuracy in classifying emotional responses, an impressive accuracy for software.
ShuffleMe is currently pre-revenue and running a closed beta program for practitioners. They recently completed an NSF I-Corps program and noticed a different niche market, where the data from the end users can be shared in one-on-one sessions with their practitioners. In February ShuffleMe will launch a second closed beta for end users. About 2,000 students from Indiana University, Purdue University, and Ball State have signed up, and Taylor and her team are thinking about expanding to other students in the Midwest. Possible next steps include entering an accelerator program and opening up a pre-seed funding round for angel investors. Eventually, Taylor expects to release a viable product in a public launch.
For all the promise ShuffleMe shows for its research and market potential, neither of those is what excites Britain Taylor the most.
“What I want to see is whether something that I spent 11 years building is going to benefit people in the long run. Not just, ‘Your software helps me to understand that when I spend this amount of time on social media or use it this way, it impacts my mood,’ but ‘Hey, here are the changes I can make because of it.’ That's something that motivates me every single day.”
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