JOLITICS.COM: Two and a half years after selling Bebo, having his third child and surviving open heart surgery, Michael Birch is back doing what he enjoys most, running a start-up.
The Epoch Times spoke to Mr Birch last Friday after he launched Jolitics.com in Ireland. The Bebo co-founders latest project is a politically focused discussion site where issues can be debated and voted on.
Over the past few years Mr Birch had been working with other start-ups via angel investment and also through social entrepreneur initiatives. During this time the germ of the idea for Jolitics that formed almost before Bebo, started to gain momentum and about one year ago, he made the decision to get back to running his own start-ups again, “which is what I really enjoy doing,” said Mr Birch.
Around the same time Mr Birch opened an office in San Francisco and hired a team of engineers. “We just wanted to work on new ideas, try cool new things and find out which ones work and which ones don't, then pursue the ones that work,” said Mr Birch.
The premise for Jolitics was an on-line community that was focused on politics, the idea was fairly vague initially but over time it formed into a viable project.
After studying other discussion forums it became clear to Mr Birch that mechanism for voting was needed in order to ascertain which direction debates were leaning towards. He also came up with the idea of empowering others to vote for you if you want someone to represent you.
“One of the problems with online communities is that everyone is on a level footing, if you imagine putting one million people in a room and asking them to debate politics … you could leave them for as long as you like and they will probably not come up with any real conclusions. Therefore, there needs to be some kind of way that people can become empowered. With Jolitics they can gain and loose influence, depending on the actions that they take and how well they represent others.”
After a concrete idea was developed, it was time to start developing Jolitics, as Mr Birch believed there was enough there to create a “really interesting political networking site.”
Also, he and the team could also utilise their experiences gained over the years working on social networking sites to help their chances of producing a viable product.
“Ultimately you end up hoping it works and you experiment, see how people react, you make changes according to how people use it, you try and create a site that resonates with the user base,” said Mr Birch.
What differentiates Jolitics from others
In Ireland there are other political discussion sites that are very popular. Mr Birch believes that Jolitics differentiates itself from others because of its empowerment features and its ability to represent visually the leanings of a discussions at a glance.
“Politics.ie is a great site and it has a lot of activity and good debate … but we wanted to try to add features that go beyond the traditional forum.
“It's very hard to see where the majority of people lie on an issue [with traditional forums], you would have to manually go through and decipher the comments to see which way people are generally leaning.
“We wanted to create something that was more visible than what forum software could do, the idea is you can immediately see which way the majority of people are leaning on a particular topic,” said Mr Birch.
There were a few reasons why Mr Birch decided to launch Jolitics in Ireland initially.
“I had been following Ireland probably more closely because of Bebo and Jolitics is a site by its very nature, country specific. So each country has its own political network. At the moment there is no relationship between countries, you can only register for the network for the country you belong to,” which is achieved by cell phone(mobile phone) verification.
“Moderation is a difficult one, because if it is a political website then the last thing you want to do is tell people what they can and can't talk about.”
Mr Birch aims to apply the same kind of rules that any other user generated content website applies such as Facebook when it comes to moderation.
“Ultimately it is going to be hard, and I'm sure at times we are not going to be popular because of decisions that we make, some people will agree and some will disagree, it's going to be impossible to do something that everyone agrees with.”
“We are not doing it [Jolitics] to make money,” said Mr Birch.
“So we are not in any hurry to make money and have no intention of throwing up adverts … we want to grow it and build it but eventually there will come a point where we will have to generate some sort of income because the running costs are not trivial”
“So we will do something to monetise it, but anything we do to monetise it we will do with great sensitivity.”