There’s no shortage of ways for Americans to express their political opinions online, as any Facebook user with even one politically active “Friend” or family member will tell you.
But Topix, one of the largest and oldest continuous local news forums online, thinks it has come up with a better way: It has launched a new mobile website called “Politix,” which aims to allow users to build up personal political profiles based on the issues and candidates they’re most impassioned about. Politix also wants to give users an outlet to post political content and commentary without spamming all of their other social network contacts.
And although Politix does support the now nearly ubiquitous practice of letting users log in with their Facebook profiles, it also supports entirely anonymous commentary, too. In fact, anonymity is one of website’s cardinal values, according to Topix CEO Chris Tolles, who spoke to TPM about his new product in a phone interview.
“We want this to be a semi-anonymous place for people to post their thoughts online,” Tolles said.
Politix contains a set of rules for commenting, what it calls “engagement etiquette,” and won’t hesitate to block usernames that don’t follow the rules.
Topix, by way of background, is a 10-year-old website headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. It was founded around the now common model of showing a stream of aggregated links to news articles and giving users space to comment on them to their hearts’ content and start their own post threads. The model has been emulated by Reddit, among others.
The key difference with Topix is that its algorithms display local news content, and that it has a unique primary audience: rural America, specifically the Midwest and the deep South. As Tolles told The New York Times in a September 2011 article on his website: “We’re running the Gawker for every little town in America.”
Now its new iteration, Politix, aims to become the hub for localized political commentary, whether that be on national or local candidates and issues. The new website inclues news and commentary organized into a list of 11 distinct national issues, as well as a similarly organized list of news about and from “People,” that includes major Presidential and national Congressional candidates, as well as public figures.
And in a move that separates it from the current trend of social networks tying online and real-life identities closer together, Tolles said Politix will always respect users who wish to remain anonymous and still contribute.
“Pew has done research showing that people don’t want to show their political views to their social networking friends, necessarily,” Tolles elaborated to TPM, referring to a study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on Tuesday, which found that “a fifth of social networking site users have avoided making political comments on the sites for fear of offending others,” among other interesting statistics.
Applying that statistic to Facebook’s 800 million monthly active users, that means that there could be least 176 million people out there who have held back their political thoughts in an effort to remain polite.
Preserving anonymous commentary while attempting to roll out the welcome mat to all sorts of users, some of whose sensibilities may be easily offended by snarky diatribes, is no easy trick, which is partially why “Politix” is currently just in beta as a mobile website for now — that is, a wesbite designed specifically to be viewed and interacted on phones, tablets and other mobile devices (though importantly, it’s not an app that one has to download separately).
Tolles told TPM that the team was testing the current website out and planned to launch the full version for desktop Web browsers by March 20 or earlier.
“In the next week or two, we’re going live across the entire [Topix] website,” Tolles told TPM. “Just liked LinkedIn is the place for your professional identity, we want Politix to become the place for your political identity.”