Poutsch: Rehacking Democracy, one question at a time

Poutsch sounds like fun, but don’t get fooled — with a name borrowed from the German putsch (meaning a political coup), this French-Belgian startup means business.

Poutsch (open to the public since January but still in beta) presents itself as an opinion-aggregating social network that enables people to make their voices count in more ways than one. Unlike Quora, which asks open-ended questions, Poutsch favors multiple choices — a perfect tool for politicians (and any leader, really) to gather the backing of their supporters or opinions on their proposed policies, seamlessly, across whatever multitude of platforms they want to use.

I was introduced to Felix Winckler, cofounder of Poutsch just before former Vice President Al Gore’s talk at SxSW, in Austin, Texas, where the former presidential candidate made the powerful statement that “our democracy has been hacked.” Winckler and I met to discuss the startup’s ambition to reverse that statement, one question at a time.

Online democracy

“It’s a bit of an online democracy,” said Winckler, who cofounded Poutsch with two of his childhood friends in Belgium. Winckler said he was struck by Gore telling the audience how Congress is “utterly incapable of passing any reform of any significance unless they get permission from ‘special interests.’”

During the 2011 Arab Spring, Winckler pointed out that you saw the outcry on Facebook and Twitter, but no one was able to make sense of who was involved — there simply were no hard numbers to concretely express where people stood.

Since then, the rise of user-generated content (UGC), shared by way of social media, has become a major part of how smart media investigate on such movements.

Real value

The debate on the value of a “like,” a tweet, a retweet or a pin, is endlessly under discussion with marketers. But what if we were looking at it from the wrong angle? Maybe the value is the authentic opinion that one leader can gather with a social network that lets them create polls on steroids to get better insight into his worlds’ opinion.

Poutsch blends traditional polling with a Twitter-style format. Whether the user is an individual or an organization, they can ask and answer questions on any topic. Those can be personal (“Do you like my paintings?”), philosophical (“Are you confident in the future?”) or political (“Was Hugo Chavez a dictator?”). By selecting your answer you can then see what others in the community think: people you follow, people in your area, people all over the world.

When you vote,you feel no peer pressure; you only get the third-party information once you are done. It’s all about your opinion. That part addresses the “influence” issue of other existing voting platforms.

The virality potential is another interesting point in the way that Winckler and his friends thought out the service. It can push each question to the respondent’s entire online social communities (or via email, of course). Poutsch also offers the possibility to embed the questions seamlessly across many platforms: The site offers a section for developers that describes the many ways to use its platform.

Say you’re an organization and you share the same cause as a few other around the world — Poutsch allows all the various entities to easily share the questions with their respective communities while also creating a global conversation.

One single question

While many are often reluctant to fill out an entire survey or may be discouraged by an open-ended question, it’s very rare that anyone would decline to answer a single, simple question. “Who would not answer one question?” asked Winckler.

Once people have responded and access other replies as well as questions, it can become a game: Users can choose from the slew of user-generated questions and engage in the ones that most interest them.

It’s easy enough to sign up for Poutsch using your email address or Facebook. The app requests permission to access your custom friends lists; it’s up to you to allow it to do so. Then you’re invited to connect your Twitter account and Gmail account (Yahoo users and others are not supported — yet). You’re also presented with a list of people you may want to follow. Then the first question comes at you: I was greeted with this — they are serious about things!

poutsch screenshot

It’s important to note that you can choose to make your response public or private.

Transparency

Data generated by Poutsch’s users remains accessible to all as well as the analytics that give you market or audience (depending on your area of interest) segmentation: geographic location, age, and gender. You can even see the trend of opinion as it changes during the life of a question. Graph lovers, this is your part.

Winckler highlighted the following phrase from Gore’s talk: “The will of the people should drive policies; and how social media could empower the ‘Wisdom of Crowds.”” Poutsch’s co-founder’s hope is that by creating a place of “opinion transparency,” Poutsch can become a powerful resource capable of influencing policy makers.

The team, Felix Winckler, Melchior Scholler and Etienne Adriaenssen just moved from Paris to the big Apple last winter, and they’re planning for another major launch this summer.

Top photo: Peter Scholz/Shutterstock


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