VoteIQ: Social media for political junkies

Startup site hopes for 6 million users in 2 years

Do political junkies need a social networking site catering just to them? A team of entrepreneurs are hoping so and have launched VoteIQ in hopes of capturing the market.

Emory Miller, who ended a 36-year federal government career in 2004 and spent the next several years as vice president of government affairs at Robbins-Gioia, is part of the team behind VoteIQ, as are Robbins-Gioia alumni Jim Tisch and Pierre Monacelli.

VoteIQ allows users to track elected officials and candidates, drawing together news reports, voting records, Twitter feeds, rankings by interest groups and other data to create detailed profile of politicians. Politicians can have their own profiles and communicate directly with their fans and followers that way, if they choose. The site also offers quizzes, discussion boards and other social features.

But primarily, VoteIQ is about trying to take the spin out of politics.“I wanted to create something people would trust, and they’d go there to get information on the politician,” said Tisch, president and CEO of the company.

The VoteIQ team uses scientists to create and evaluate the quizzes that allow users to define their political leanings with specificity. They’ve also established an advisory board composed of luminaries spanning the ideological spectrum.

"We're trying to level the playing field and democratize politics," said Rick Shenkman, vice president of media and partnerships at VoteIQ. Right now, politics is still dominated by the candidates who can buy the most TV advertising, he said. One of VoteIQ's planned revenue streams is to provide advertising to candidates at a much lower cost than TV.

The site went live in August and has about 15,000 members. The team has an ambitious goal of 5 million to 6 million members by 2012.

The founders of VoteIQ say they’ve shown the site to some political and IT leaders and received enthusiastic support. Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, was one.

"I do not know enough about other similar platforms to compare them, [but] I was impressed with VoteIQ," Soloway said. "As a tool to drive citizen knowledge and engagement in the political process, it has great appeal. It is relatively easy to navigate and has a lot of different ways in which voters can access information about candidates, policy and more. Given the current levels of voter cynicism in the country and how difficult it is to easily find cogent information with no bias, it would certainly seem like a platform that could have a real impact."

But that isn’t a universal sentiment. Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs, did not meet with the company but did look around the site and came away less than impressed. It could be a niche success potentially, he said, but "I wouldn't put my money on it."

The VoteIQ team is also thinking of ways to use the technology platform in other markets, including colleges and internal government use, although those ideas are still in the formative stages.

Miller, vice president of government solutions at VoteIQ, said the timing is good because even if the current generation of politicians is slow to embrace the technology, “the people who will be in the government in 10 years will be people comfortable with this kind of open environment.”

VoteIQ isn’t alone in that space. Another startup site, one that is just a placeholder for now, called Votizen.com, bills itself as “social lobbying for registered voters.” But VoteIQ's founders believe they've made the right decisions for success. 

"The political system now is geared to the politicians, not the voters," Monacelli said. VoteIQ aims to change that. 

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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