Sean Parker, one of the most outspoken Facebook co-founders, is at it again. This time he has developed a social app that will put a new spin on political activism. The new app, called Brigade, has recently been rolled out to a small group of beta testers. Here’s an overview of Sean Parker’s Brigade app:
Brigade is currently a very small app. Users can only share and debate their political beliefs. However, its ambitions are much greater. In the future, it will have features that will allow users to organize votes and even call congressmen. So the app exists today as a stripped down version of what it could be, but both Sean Parker and Brigade CEO, Matt Mahan, think there are upsides to this simplicity in its initial stages. Facebook began the same way, and over time, it went on to have extremely popular features that turned it into a worldwide social networking phenomenon.
Operating the app is child’s play. It basically consists of a vertical scroll akin to what is found on news feeds. The scroll displays various issues on which users can choose to ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ or be ‘unsure’. A user can also see where they stand in comparison to their friends and other app users. After choosing an opinion, a user can also see who shares the same opinion. There is also a tool through which someone can delve deeper and see how personal beliefs compare to those of friends and followers.
Brigade is currently available on both iOS and Android platforms. The ultimate goal of the app is for people to engage politically, something neither of the current social network heavyweights, Facebook and Twitter, have been able to achieve. The beta version allows users to take ‘positions’ on issues such as maternity leave, immigration, legalization of marijuana, the role of international bodies, and so forth. They can agree, disagree or even add a brief comment on the topic to express their thoughts. This configuration makes it easy to take a very clear stand on issues, which is unlike anything other social media platforms have to offer. Those who are not sure of what to think about the debate subject can always peruse through the comments section and decide which side to support.
Comments can also get ‘Upvoted’ to bump up the profile of the topic, just like in Reddit. This also applies to comments that users find especially compelling to the discussion. Users can get a stronger ‘Impact Score’ by posting comments that are able to convince their friends or other users to change their positions. Unfortunately, the app also lacks some important features, such as the ability by members to send each other messages directly. The company wishes to roll out this feature as well as other important features down the road. Other important features expected to come out over time will include the ability to start groups for more focused political activism.
The motivation for launching the app, regardless of the fact that many similar apps have failed in the past, is the realization that the current social media platforms do not condone expression of political issues. For instance, on Facebook, users have to adhere to certain social rules that generally require people to keep their political issues to themselves. Sean Parker knows that Facebook and Twitter are not the right platforms for declaring political identity, especially as an average person. The Brigade app seeks to address this issue. So far the company has raised $9 million in funding and has a staff of about 50.
Still, the Brigade app will have an uphill climb to gain traction among its American audience that has grown increasingly dependent on mainstream media as the source of its political awareness. This process is inherently passive, but the success of sites like change.org indicate a growing appetite for active participation among the population. Statistics from tests done this year indicate that the Brigade team may be on to something. Of the 13,000 testers the app was rolled out to in early trials, each user took an average of 90 positions. This kind of information could prove critical during advocacy and political campaigns. Sean Parker is banking on this growing trend to fuel the success of Brigade, and becoming an important part of the 21st-century democratic landscape.