A New Approach to Political Debate

michael and xochi birch

Xochi and Michael Birch

After a lot of development and a little mystery, the covers are beginning to slip off Jolitics, a new political website.

Established by Bebo founder Michael Birch, Jolitics is currently being tested in alpha in Ireland. Site membership of this innovative approach to political discussion is by invitation for now, but I managed to snag myself a place among the first 120 founder testers. They can, in turn, invite up to 10 others each to participate.

According to the company:

The ultimate goal with Jolitics is to encourage open constructive political debate, and enable passionate and smart people to rise and develop a political career, at the same time as allowing anyone to have their say on issues that are important to them.

The first I heard about it was at the Dublin Web Summit a few months ago. Birch was in attendance and, naturally, Jolitics was mentioned. He had promised a new approach to political discussion, and was looking forward to launching in Ireland due to the early success Bebo had here. Birch, of course, sold Bebo in 2008 for €850 million to AOL. That made him very wealthy, but lost AOL a lot of money. Unsure what to do with their acquisition, users began to drift away, and AOL sold the site this year for an amount rumored to be less than €10 million.

After a break, Birch got back to being an entrepreneur and working on what he knows best: social networking.

Prior to this point, my experience of internet political sites had been of places like Politics.ie, or thePropertyPin.com. Basically, these are anonymous bulletin boards where the shoutin’ an’ roarin’ happens from behind fake names.

Jolitics, however, requires honesty. You have to be a real person. So, any opinions expressed there are directly attributable to a named individual. It’s a break from the regular internet approach, but I find it forces more honesty. However, it may also scare people off. People may be afraid of expressing an opinion that could come back to haunt them. Or some dope in HR could weed out candidates after Googling them and disagreeing with their politics.

Jolitics is also a very open site. Basically, a person will post an issue such as reform the Irish electoral system, appoint good will ambassadors, etc. Others are then free to comment, or vote on the basic premise. However, your votes are public. You can also follow other users, or nominate them to vote on your behalf — which is either more ammo for the HR dope or plausible deniability for you.

I suspect the tone of the site will be more civilized than the bulletin boards. It is much easier to get aggressive and abusive at anonymous posters when you, too, are hidden. But Ireland is a small country, and chances are you could bump in to people. Foaming at the mouth and spitting bile at venture capital guys like Eoghan Jennings (@eoghanjennings) or web gurus like Birch or Paddy Cosgrave (@paddycosgrave) could easily be career-limiting moves.

Jolitics requires that you have a Facebook account. During sign-up, I was surprised at the amount of data it wanted to import. It wants your name, picture, list of friends and “any other information” shared. It can grab your Facebook news feed, or access your details even when you are not signed on. It is interested — naturally — in your religious and political views on Facebook, and also your status. It can also access that information on your Facebook friends.

Some of that makes me wary. It is fine if I want to go mouthing off, but I would hate to drag innocent parties in to my stupid arguments. And matters can get very hot, especially if emotive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are ever mentioned. We will have to wait and see how much sharing goes on in future.

In the meantime, however, I’m off to post my first issue: abolish the TV license. They’ll probably tear me to pieces.

Photo of Xochi and Michael Birch by Ewan McIntosh on Flickr.

2 thoughts on “A New Approach to Political Debate

  1. Pingback: There’s a Conversation Going On Out There; 5 Ways to Stay In It « John P. Muldoon

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