There’s no question about it: This presidential election season has been the most polarizing one many of us have ever experienced, which means that publicly voicing your support for Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton could lead to hell itself opening up. And it’s for that reason many may choose to not speak up at all.
“What we’ve found so far is the conversation has been really high brow.”
For Jed Breed and Stephen Kemmerling, this meant it was the perfect opportunity to launch We the People, a new politics app that combines a Yik Yak-like anonymous, location-based messaging functionality with a news feed and heatmap showing which candidates your neighbors support. The app has already been out for a few weeks on Android and iOS.
Breed previously co-founded the 2014 MassChallenge finalist Mystery Envelope and worked at SocMetrics prior to that. Kemmerling previously served as an engineering manager at Mountain View, Calif.-based Fortytwo, the maker of knowledge management software Kifi, and prior to that served as a technical lead at Lexity, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2013.
The idea of using anonymous messaging apps to create safe spaces for political discussions isn’t new by any means. A couple months ago, BostInno reported about how young people in Boston had been using Yik Yak to discuss politics. But there can be value in providing a specialized place that caters to a more niche audience.
Breed told BostInno that he and Kemmerling are aiming to provide a safe space for all political voices. So far, he said, discussions have been mostly civil, but the two founders help moderate the discussion to make sure things don’t go awry.
“We do moderate the discussion and the audience we’re going after are more political buffs, so what we’ve found so far is the conversation has been really high brow,” Breed said, adding that there only have been a couple inflammatory posts.
As for the app’s new feed, Breed said he and Kemmerling are aiming to make it an unbiased source of news content by providing stories from all around the political spectrum. Around noontime on Wednesday, We the People’s news feed was showing news articles from The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, RealClearPolitics, The New York Times, Mother Jones and The Sean Hannity Show — to name a few. It also includes tweets from the three main presidential candidates.
Claiming to provide an unbiased source of news can be a tricky thing, as demonstrated by the political bias allegations Facebook has been facing with its Trending Topics section. But Breed said he’s been paying attention to Facebook’s recent controversy and that he hasn’t seen any complaints so far about how the app chooses sources.
For people who don’t support Trump, Clinton or Sanders, they may find the app lacking since it doesn’t currently support any options for third-party candidates, like the Green Party’s Jill Stein. When I asked about this, Breed said once there are only two main candidates, the plan is to add a subsection for independent and third-party candidates.
The ultimate goal for We the People, Breed said, is to create a platform for people to discuss political issues and candidates of all kinds, going all the way down to local ballot issues—which is what motivated Breed and Kemmerling to start the app in the first place. He said part of the hope is that it will help political candidates and groups with smaller budgets get their name out.
We the People has been completely bootstrapped so far, with Breed and Kemmerling working on the app at Workbar Cambridge, but Breed said they’re planning to raise a seed round from angel investors sometime in the near future. The app will eventually have a revenue model, but Breed said the plan for right now is “growth, growth, growth.”
“We just started talking to some potential angels and there’s definitely some interest in what we’re doing,” Breed said. “People really see this as a way to bring balance to politics.”