Votizen is a political advocacy site, solely dependent on viral, digital and technological participation, that started out in 2010 at the west coast, in Mountain View, California. The three founders, Dave Binetti, Jason Putorti and Matt Snider aspired to create an online network of citizens – votizens – to take collective action and influence election results using social media. When votizens log on to the platform using their Facebook or Twitter Account, they can see which people in their network support the same political candidate and take the responsibility to prompt these voters to turn in their ballot.
In addition, the organization creates profiles of active supporters and shares those with the political candidates showing the commitment of people to their mission. In effect, Votizen can be described as a social media crowd sourced campaigning tool. Votizen, with more than a million users was definitely a well-established profitable online citizen participation initiative, recently acquired by Causes, an online social impact organization.
What is worth mentioning is that both Causes and Votizen built their popularity through other social media platforms. Causes started out on Facebook, and Votizen went viral on Twitter. Analyzing the organization’s model, the main questions were how to convince people to share their political orientation and what is the benefit for the users campaigning on behalf of a candidate for no direct reward?
Dave Binetti, one of the Votizen founders agreed to have a telephone interview with me and answer my questions on the premises of the consumer technology company he founded. The innovative proposition of Votizen could very well be described as the evolution of telephone polling. Migrating citizen activity to online platforms is the way to do things but as Dave attested “forward thinking does not align with technical and practical capabilities.”
Naturally, the entrepreneur replied to both of my questions with one example. The example was loyalty schemes. People, who like to shop from a certain vendor, are happy to share their personal information in exchange of a loyalty card that will give them benefits in the long run. Compensation usually diminishes the concerns of sharing information. What causes distrust is when the voluntarily provided data is used in a way that was not described in the initial agreement. Say the data where shared with a third party company without the customer consent.
Votizen, although does not provide direct benefits to users like loyalty cards, it empowers citizens to advocate for their interests and political beliefs. The compensation is the citizen contribution to the pursuit of common good, and that in itself is a very powerful reward. In terms of privacy, Votizen is very meticulous about it and informs people in a comprehensive manner about how their information is going to be used. In addition, right after the acquisition of Votizen by Causes, the destruction of all user information was immediately announced on the website to ensure loyalty.
Economics are universal and this example portrays that citizens will participate to online governance initiatives as long as they benefit directly or indirectly. Indeed, the individual marginal benefit is smaller in large groups, but can be more if you partner each vote for instance, and will be substantial collectively. Evidently social media allow for collective impact and it remains to further exploit this potential to address a wide range of social issues.