Monday, April 6, 2015
AllSay: Using Mobile Apps To Engage Users With Decisions, with Geoff Campbell
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
How do you combine the world of online and mobile apps with the world of community and political decisions and discourse? Geoff Campbell, the founder of Los Angeles-based AllSay (www.allsay.com), talked to us about how he's trying to combine the worlds of digital media—he most recently helped launch Sling TV—with his own personal, family connection to the world of politics (his family is big in Canadian politics), with the company's new app and service, which helps users connect with decision makers about all kinds of decisions that influence the community around them.What is AllSay?
Geoff Campbell: AllSay is a service which believes everyone should have a say in the decisions that affect them. Almost everyone says yes, they want to have a say in the things that affect me and my family. What we do at AllSay, is we make it really easy for anyone to influence decisions that affect them. Here's an example. Every day around us, other people are talking about things that affect us, depending on who we are and where we live, and what our interests are. For those of us in technology here in California, it might be about the licensing of Bitcoin, or about Ashley Judd suing twitter for harassment, or maybe it might be about apps getting more permissions from users to get their GPS information. If you're not in technology, say you are an NFL fan, it might be about the Colts and their 9 point touchdown play. Depending on who you are and what you are interested in, people are making decisions that affect you. What Allsay does, is given your profile and location, it does all of the work to connect you with decisions that matter to you, and to people who are making those decisions on your behalf. The simplest way to think about it, is it's a yes/no, Tinder-like interface on things that affect you, and which only takes two or three minutes a day.
How did you end up starting AllSay?
Geoff Campbell: My professional life has all been in digital media. I was at Boston Consulting Group, working in e-=commerce back in 1997 and 1998. Through their professional services, I ended up investing in a private equity firm called iFormation, which was a three way joint venture between Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, and General Atlantic Partners. That was all in digital media. I was working for Sony in the early days, working on Sony Connect, when Sony was looking at Apple as an upstart in the disk business. They wanted to create a new competitor to put Apple out of business, and you know the story there. I spent time on Blu Ray, on the manufacturing side, with HD DVD and Blu Ray. So I've spent most of my time in digital media. The latest thing I did was in the business development and operational area in what is now Sling TV, which just launched its linear, over-the-top service in the US with ESPN and others. That's my background, professionally. Privately, my father was in politics in Canada for most of his adult life, and I got the inside version of how hard it is for anyone in public life to connect with people and understand what they want. A lot of the story from AllSay, is the desire to help people understand the issues around what affects them. Once Facebook opened up their graph, I realized there was all kinds of information you could grab, which would help put in context the decisions being made. I wanted to marry my digital media experience with my private life experience. I believe everyone should have a say in decisions, regardless of where they are happening and what those decisions are. That might be NFL rules, that might be your kids' curriculum at school, and we'll help you do that. That's really where AllSay is, it marries together my background in digital media with my private family, in politics, in community, and in public decision making.
How does your service connect those opinions of your users with the actual decision makers?
Geoff Campbell: That's a great question. One thing with AllSay, is it looke like Buzzfeed did in the early days. Editors use Buzzfeed and read the news, to find proposals and decisions, and use the news as a source. Journalists are already doing lots of that work, separating what is wheat from the chaff. Everything in AllSay is similar, and is already on someone's agenda somewhere. We don't advocate yes or no, that decisions exists for you to make your own choice.We're looking to fulfill a piece of the market for the rest of us, for people who care about the things that are happening to our kids, to our sports teams, to things that will change the environment. We care about those things, but we're too busy to go and actively petition things, go to down hall meetings, or be activists. For the rest of us, we need a tool that lets us know what could affect us, and have an easy way to share our opinions.
What we’re doing, is creating a marketplace of information and connect that to people who are affected by those decisions, and those who are making those decisions. When we present decisions, we capture all of the data around what that decision is, who is responsible for it, who is the writer around it, who is the lobbyist who might be quoted, or academic quoted in the article. We capture all of that decision maker and influencer information when we package that decision together. When you vote in AllSay, we then capture that aggregate vote, and push that back out to the influencer community. What we're saying to a user, is we're including you in the process. We're not saying your vote will be read and change the opinion of Barack Obama. However, what we are saying, is we are giving you a tool that will help influence the outcome of things that affect you. AllSay is a a discovery tool to help figure out what is happening and is affecting you. Nowadays, people are so busy, the media environment is so noisy, no one is helping you to figure out the things that can affect you, and help you influence the outcome and become part of the process. We connect you with decisions makers, provider our content to them, let them check on the results. In a future release, we'll let you see when decisions have been checked by a journalist, a senator, an academic, or lobbyist, and if they checked in on your votes. We want people to be involved and influential in the process, and we're doing our best to get their opinion to those in charge.
How do you contrast this to the latest news on how very few people actually bother to vote in Los Angeles?
Geoff Campbell: I think that abysmal voting number is actually fairly indicative of how people believe and wants to participate in existing processes. They are just not representative of how people live their lives today. What I think is missing, is the connection and context of how taking four hours out of your day to cast a ballot makes sense, when they're not sure what it all means and how it affects them. A big part of AllSay, is connecting you to decisions that matter to you. It's not big decisions like should we fix the climate. It's smaller decisions like should we reduce emissions on cars through standards. It's very specific. It connects you to thinkgs you care about. It's about you first, and convenience, and speed. One of the big reasons that people don't participate in the community today, or don't wan to, is that they are already trying to balance work and family, and everything else loses. Going out and participating in decisions I sthe last thing on my list. You need to give me something convenient, where I only need to spend a few minutes a day, and which connects me to the matters and gives me a voice in the process. So, while it seems like lots of people don't seem to bother to vote in municipal elections in LA, if you ask Angelenos about the things in their community and if they care about them, they do. AllSay gives you a few minutes where you can be connecte,d and feel like you have influence in your community, that at least you have done something to be part of the community around you. In our initial testing in LA, funny enough, people do care more about things like sports and entertainment. However, as Jay Samit, who is one of my board members pointed out, that's very relevant. How can you say the NBA's decision to boot Donald Sterling was not a community decision? He told us, we have to be broader in our scope about what community means. That means, in LA, that might be things about sports, or entertainment policy. We're already seeing that acros the country, there are many differences in age, income, location, and interests, and which all drive different decisions. People in LA and Southern California want to get connected to things that matter to them, and want to be part of the process.
How do you make this a business?
Geoff Campbell: For any organization, at some point they need to activate their constituency, customers, or fans in some area of public discussion. If you are AirBnb, you are fighting a battle with the hotel lobby around taxes, fees, and rooms. If you're Tesla, you're fighting a battle with the car lobby in Detroit. If you're Uber, you're fighting the tax lobby all over the globe. Any organization that is looking to bring their constituency to bear, and wants them to be active in public decisions, does not have the right tools right now to do that. Most tools, such as e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, are not designed for that. There's lots of breakage between those tools and taking action. We'd like to change that. If a charity, such as Greenpeace or the ASPCA, wanted people to take action, rather than just give money, AllSay is a platform for that. We will sell that as a subscription to those organizations, and help push that to all of their members, and also give them the ability to run campaigns. For example, say you are a developer, looking to develop a building in Westwood, and want to talk to the community in Westwood about that decision. We'd help run a campaign around why a new building is good for the community. Those are the kinds of sponsored decisions in AllSay, which help you connect with the community, and those kinds of things have permission to be there. Those are all decisions that affect you, and you control what comes into view based on your profile, your interests, and likes you are doing. We'll present sponsored decisions that align with the consumer, with that commercial model.