The end of Votizen – or the beginning?

Many things have happened since my last post. However, the biggest news is the announcement that Votizen has been bought by Causes, a social fund-raising startup. Not only has Votizen been bought, however, its website has been shutdown with immediate effect. The announcement also stated that all personal information from the site has been destroyed. 

While the acquisition has been given a positive spin by TechCrunch, it has convinced me that there are significant problems with using social media to promote political agendas. The logic of the purchase for Causes is that Causes in itself is a little lightweight – ‘clicktivism’ rather than activism. Votizen users on the other hand are much more engaged but their business is dominated by the election cycle and keeping people engaged outside of those periods is tough. However, the fact that Votizen has gone and Causes gets the benefit of Votizen’s team makes me feel that this was more of a talent acquisition than a real merging of ideas. I could be wrong. We shall see.

With hindsight a few things now make a little more sense. I had a feeling that things might not have been going so well at Votizen at the end of last year. Right after the Presidential election I thought I noticed a low feeling in a couple of David Binetti’s tweets which surprised me as I thought that he would be high after the rush of election night. I didn’t dwell on it though. After all, many other things are going in people’s lives and it might have been nothing to do with Votizen at all.

Then in December I met Votizen engineer, Jeremy Dunck for coffee in San Francisco, right next to the Votizen office. It was great that he offered to take time out to talk to me and we covered a lot of ground. One thing he said in particular stuck with me: It’s easier to get people to talk to someone they don’t know about politics than to get them to talk to their friends. 

David Binetti came by while I was talking with Jeremy. Perhaps he was in a rush but he didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in why I’d travelled to San Francisco to see them. I was just a little disappointed. Given that Votizen was in the process of being sold though he probably had more important things to think about.

Despite my enthusiasm for Votizen’s goal of promoting democracy, it doesn’t take many conversations to realise that many people are lukewarm at best on the idea of discussing their politics with friends. People who are already politically engaged are much keener. But for many people politics is boring at best and corrupt at worst. Politics isn’t cool and it isn’t sexy. And yet it is this disenchanted group of voters who are really disenfranchised and most need to be reached. Clearly it was hard for Votizen to reach them too.

These are things that I started to worry about when talking to people about SociaVote which was going be my attempt to build a Votizen-like startup in the UK. For now I’ve decided to put that aside and try and look at the problem from the other way around: something that is cool enough and useful enough that people want to use often.

Taking the ‘inverting the problem’ thought a bit further rather than being told what candidates and manifestos to vote for, maybe we can find a way to create and share ideas about what we want our world to be like? Then perhaps the important ideas can emerge from what people are really interested in. 

The stuff of dreams? Maybe, but that’s the approach I’m working on now. There’s no point building something that nobody wants to use.


About simonholgate

I'm CEO of Sea Level Research Ltd ( - a Liverpool, UK based startup that uses machine learning to predict sea level surges and optimise shipping movements into and out of port. I'm an oceanographer and I'm also a Clojure developer who is interested in democracy and Big Data.
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