It's an election year in the United States, and the screens and airwaves are full of provocative sound bites, pundits, scandals, and the latest political gossip of the day. However, do you really know which political candidate you most agree with on the issues? Looking to help voters educate themselves better on the candidates, and the issues, Taylor Peck and Nick Boutelier came up with iSideWith (www.isidewith.com), a cleverly built site which lets users input their opinions on issues important to them, and helps the compare and match their answer with the positions of all of the candidates in the race. We sat down with the two Los Angeles founders and heard more about the service. (Photo: Nick Boutleier on the left, Taylor Peck on the right).
What's the story behind the site, and when did you come up with it?
Taylor Peck: We started this site as a tool to connect voters with presidential candidates. The idea was to save users time, and do the research for them to look at candidates. We also thought it would increase voter participation and turnout, by allowing people to go and share the results with their friends and family, and have the site spread virally that way. We started this a few months ago. I handle all the research and questions, and Nick handles all the technical aspects of it. We're constantly refining the site, and making it easier for users to use, and easier for users to share it with friends. Nick is always tweaking the site to make it easier, more viral, and social. I have been monitoring the news and keeping the positions up to date, and adding new questions as available, plus getting the word out about the site. It's been a self funded project, and we haven't raiesd any money yet, and haven't done any advertising. It's been spread by word of mouth by users.
What were you guys doing before this, and how did you guys get into this?
Nick Boutelier: We were roommates years ago, and met each other through good friends. We started as roommates, and became good friends, and began bouncing ideas back and forth. This one just seemed like a great fit. We're not the first to develop a concept like this, but together with both of our skills we thought we could build something that was a little better and easier to use, and is definitely more efficient that what else is out there.
Taylor Peck: I've been a new junkie my whole life, but I figured out I had a lot of friends and family who don't follow politics anymore. They might associate with a political party or candidate, but they're pretty disengaged. I think that's because of the 24 hour news cycle, where people are constantly focused on non-issues, and more on the latest gaffe a candidate has made, or some scandal that is heating up. At this point, most people have forgotten where a candidate stands on issues and what is important to them. We want to bring voters back, and remind them when they're taking the questionnaire what are the most important issues to them. We then match them up with candidates, and give them a list of all of the candidates--not just the main candidates, but all down the line, and educate them on all of the candidates and where they site on the issues. We originally thought it would just be a tool for our friends and family, but it really expanded and blew up. We're now closing in on 100,000 people who have taken the questionnaire.
Nick Boutelier: I'm one of those guys that Taylor is talking about. I kept asking him about the candidates, as they flip flopped on issues, and he was the guys I'd go to ping on things, to understand who is for this, and who is for that. He was my compass, and helped educate me on the issues. That's one of the reasons why I love the idea behind the project. It's a great reference that keeps me up to date on all the candidates' stances and who I align with.
You mention flip flopping of positions--has it been difficult coming up with definite positions of the politicians?
Taylor Peck: Yes, it has. With the long primary with the Republicans, I was constantly watching the news and monitoring the candidates positions. I saw lots of the big candidates change their position as they went from state to state, trying to win those states and appeal to voters on major issues. Everyone in the race, from Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and so on were changing their positions as the race went on. One of the big ones was immigration. The Republicans in Iowa are very conservative, so they all too ka hard line on illegal immigrants. But, as they went to Florida. After Santorum won Iowa and Romney won New Hampshire, and Gingrich won South California, Florida became a must-win. However, it's heavily Latino, and they softened their positions suddenly. A few weeks before, I was constantly watching the race, and seeing new issues come up like birth control, and we're always adding new positions and changing candidates. We also get lots of feedback from users, who bring up changes in position of the candidates, and new positions that they've added. It's very fluid process.
How do the matches work as positions shift?
Nick Boutelier: You can just refresh your page, or come back a week later and your stance will be remapped with the correct candidates. You only have to take the test once, and you can come back to it and keep refreshing it.
Taylor Peck: We also remind you to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, as we add new issues or candidates change positions, you can come back to it and reengage with the site. As the race drags on through November, we also think you might want to share it with friends, and not just come once but will want to come again.
How is the site supported?
Nick Boutelier: We're funding it ourselves. Luckily, we've been very efficient on how we've built this. Most of the money we've received from donations from our users has been going toward reaching a larger audience, and so that we can keep educating more voters. We have a donate button on the site, and those donations go to support the project and help us reach a larger audience.
What's the goal with the site running up to the elections in November?
Nick Boutelier: There are 180 million registered voters out there, and we're trying to reach as many of those voters as possible. We'd also like to get into the local and senate races like that, and keep expanding the service.
Taylor Peck: As our traffic and revenues increase, we'd like to expand our marketing and social media across the web, and bring in more users, so that we can go into congressional races across the country.