Every election since 2008 has been branded the “social media” election by tech and politics reporters. But one startup company hopes to help make the 2012 U.S. general election unquestionably remembered as the first where social media played a role in deciding the outcome.
Votizen is a social media company focused on providing additional tools for campaigns and voters through existing social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). The company, which was founded in 2009 in Mountain View, California, has been quietly building up an exhaustive digital database of all 200 million registered U.S. voters and matching them with social media profiles. It launched its user-facing website in 2011. When a user logs into the Votizen website, they are able to see which of their friends and connections are registered voters, their friends’ voting districts, and even their friends’ supported candidates.
But now the company — which was co-founded by David Binetti, creator of the official USA.gov website, and is backed by prominent venture capitalists and Silicon Valley celebrities — is unveiling a new tool, tailored specifically to campaigns, which seeks to give field directors and social media managers the ability to turn their casual supporters into active volunteers.
Watch a video demo from Votizen here:
“Currently, “a ‘Like’ on a candidate’s Facebook page doesn’t represent a vote, it doesn’t even mean you can vote for them, or that you’re registered to vote at all,” said Votizen co-founder Jason Putorti, former lead designer of Mint.com, in a statement. “A ‘Like’ represents untapped potential for a candidate, and Votizen lets you harness it, by giving those fans and followers something meaningful to do: identifying registered voters they know that can actually cast a ballot for that candidate.”
Votizen investor and board-member Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster and formerly the President of Facebook, is even more bold in his predictions for the new Votizen service.
“Votizen replaces expensive traditional media, with social media, and delivers votes to candidates by relying on relationships instead of money,” Parker said in a statement about the new product.
Specifically, the new product will allow campaigns to obtain analytics on their supporters, create custom messages for supporters, and “extract the voter IDs for the voters identified by your supporters,” according to Putorti, though voters can opt-out of being identified by filling out the following form.
Votizen is “talking to hundreds of campaigns now, and testing, but we’re not ready to announce any specific clients right now,” Putorti told TPM in an email.
“Over 5,000 candidates have been loaded into our system and we have all the redistricting data for 2013,” Putorti added. “We’re non-partisan and not affiliated with any candidates or committees, everyone can use this platform.”
Still, Votizen is anything but a sure bet. The product is paid, for one thing, costing a “small one-time fee,” Putorti explained. “This week that’s $250 due to a Labor Day promotion, but the price will go up after that.”
And though Parker’s, Putorti’s and Binetti’s entrepreneurial pedigrees are well-established, Parker’s latest effort, a video chat application for Facebook called “Airtime,” has failed to catch on with users, according to a recent review by The New York Times. Binetti openly admits on his website that his own record has been hit-or-miss, writing on his website that his second project after USA.gov, Capitolix, was a “it was a spectacular failure as a financial investment.”
Votizen’s success with this new tool depends entirely on whether campaigns flock to it or not. And for now, it remains to be seen whether campaigns have the time to check out yet another tool, in an age where Facebook and Twitter are approaching ubiquity and other services like Google Plus, Tumblr and Instagram are not far behind, even if Votizen promises to help consolidate and better use some of those existing social media sites.
Correction: This article was updated to correct information regarding the product’s purpose and its price. The article originally stated that the product was able to give campaigns the ability to see which of the users that clicked “Like” on a campaign page on Facebook were registered voters, when in fact, it is not able to do this. Instead it provides the ability to send links to those users to Votizen and encourages them to sign-up and persuade their friends to vote for a candidate. Further, this article originally stated that the product cost $100, when in fact, the price was $250. Both pieces of information have been corrected in copy. We apologize for the errors.