Photo: Jason Putorti
Votizen has the potential to do for politics what Napster did for music.Sean Parker recently spoke on-stage at SXSW about Votizen, a startup that he backs, hoping it will repair democracy. It lets users connect to like-minded voters using social networks like Facebook.
Votizen worked with Google on their policy against SOPA. The joint effort produced nearly five million signatures in two days.
The startup also has been collecting data from 200 million registered voters, so people can connect to their friends on Facebook and organise political campaigns more easily.
Cofounder Jason Putorti designed the site. He spoke about why he’s interested in making politics more transparent online.
Business Insider: How do you design for a million users? How is it different than when you first launch a product?
Jason Putorti: I never think of designing for a million users.
I think about certain people, and get to know them and their situations. This is the beginning of user experience design, having empathy for someone, and building a solution to make their life better.
You can use data and experimentation to inform choices for a larger set of users, but fundamentally my core decisions are driven by my vision, in concert with conversations with real people.
BI: What exactly is Votizen?
JP: We built a foundation. We built the technology to see who is registered to vote and are providing a political and voting lens.
How can we allow people to allow people to have a conversation with politicians?
We are really just looking at other ways to build more conversations and allow people to campaign for issues.
The big thing is, getting ready for the elections happening in 2012 — not just presidential race but also the congressional races and local races.
BI: What is Votizen doing now with the current election?
JP: Votizen allows people to find voters in their social networks. Only half of people are registered, so it’s actually non-trivial to know who votes, as well as see how they’re registered and how frequently they vote in their districts.
You can then campaign with them to elect the candidates you want to win in 2012 up and down ticket.
The way I explain it to people is you’re moving votes around that you can influence, so you can have a real impact not just where you live, but all over the country.
It used to be that all politics is local, but with Votizen — all politics is social.
BI: Why are you interested in politics?
JP: Something about politics is absolutely alluring to me.
I didn’t grow up in a political family, so it just must be something in my personality.
I was fortunate to go to school in Pittsburgh, which is a regular campaign stop being in a swing state. I became completely captivated in 2000 when I went to my first political rally for Al Gore, and later followed the Florida recount through Bush versus Gore.
I saw John Kerry in 2004, and Hillary Clinton in San Jose after I moved here.
This watershed moment for me was when I saw candidates going around the mainstream media to talk directly to the people during the 2008 campaign.
I immediately started working on Capitol Circle, a news aggregator, and that led me to David Binetti and Votizen.
BI: How do you draw on your experience with Mint, where you played a key part in designing the site?
JP: I draw on my Mint experiences in everything that I do.
I’ve been continuing to learn more ever since I first used a computer when I was 8 years old, and I continued to learn even more at Mint.
I had the benefit of learning a great deal from our other designer Justin Maxwell, who taught me almost everything I use today in terms of a mature design process, and I learned product, marketing, business development from the amazing VPs that we had at Mint: Aaron Forth, Anton Commissaris, and Donna Wells respectively.
I especially learned a lot in how to market and position consumer internet services, and I’m applying that today at Votizen.
BI: How is Votizen different than Mint?
JP: Votizen is a much harder company than Mint. With Mint, it was a pretty easy value proposition for people. We could help show you where your money is going.
With politics, it’s a tougher road. People have been so turned off. They have apathy about things not getting accomplished. We are up against a behaviour issue.
How do you get people excited about politics and have people believe?
BI: How important is design for getting more users?
JP: The best form of marketing is a well-designed product, period. One singular luxury I have with Votizen is that we’ve built something that nothing else on the market can do: show you how your friends have voted over the past 10 years. Typically if you’re offering something completely new and remarkable to people, the mere fact that it’s possible is enough, hence the early adoption of PCs in businesses. It was far superior to paper and ink. As markets mature, expectations increase, and design and user experience become critical success factors.
BI: What do you like about being in the valley?
JP: People inspire me. I advise startups. I’m an adviser to SV Angel and 500 Startups. A lot of people seek me out for advice to help them with problems that they are facing. People I work with certainly have a vision of really changing the country. Everyone works hard.
BI: What else do you like doing? What are your hobbies?
JP: I love to play soccer. If I could just play soccer every day and nothing else, I’d be a pretty happy guy. I’m also an avid sports fan, especially the Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins. On weekends if I’m not working I’m taking trips to wine country or the beaches in California; I love exploring cities and trying new food, museums, and shows; and of course reading up about U.S. politics.
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