Aiming to help people cut through all of the political noise, Sidewire, a political news analysis platform, is launching today on iOS, just in time for tonight’s second Republican presidential debate.
Sidewire is the brainchild of Tucker Bounds, who was formerly the national spokesman for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign before heading up corporate communications at Facebook, and Andy Bromberg, a 21-year-old Stanford CS dropout.
To power the project, the two have pulled in $4.85 million in seed funding from Spark Capital (early investors in Twitter and Tumblr) with participation from Goldcrest Capital and a handful of angels.
“Essentially what we’re looking to do is create a place where people can find the most important political news, and also what the most important people to that news are talking about,” says Bounds.
Sidewire has assembled a group of more than 100 political journalists, analysts, candidates, campaign managers and elected officials who are responsible for curating the content on the platform.
These influencers enter the link to any news article into Sidewire along with their 250-character take on it, which is overlaid on an image card. With one click, they can push the card out to Sidewire, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
If the AP publishes an article about Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley urging Obama to increase aid for Syrian refugees, for instance, O’Malley’s campaign manager might post the article to Sidewire with a blurb touting her candidate’s “moral leadership on this global crisis.”
The real value of Sidewire, though, is in the commentary from journalists and analysts who then debate O’Malley’s stance and discuss the political consequences of increasing support to refugees.
If it’s taken over by campaign operatives, Sidewire runs the risk of becoming another noise machine. So the team is slowly adding influencers by a referral process, Bounds says, in an effort to maintain a balanced conversation.
Currently, the app has representatives from virtually all of the different running campaigns, along with five U.S. Senators, a number of congressmen, and prominent political analysts like Dan Pfeiffer, David Axelrod and Chuck Todd. For this group, Sidewire provides a promotional tool, as well as a restricted space for debate.
For news consumers outside this sphere of influence, Sidewire provides a window in. General users have the ability to like content (which determines its rank on the page), as well as share and chat within Sidewire’s internal chat feature. Influencers, in turn, receive analytics around user engagement.
“There’s no lack of great content and smart people saying interesting things, but how it’s packaged and organized for consumers is a big challenge,” says Kevin Thau, who led the Sidewire investment for Spark. “By making political news more approachable and digestible, and not so daunting and intimidating, it should get more people into what’s going on.”
For those who want a hot take, it’s there in the 250-character blurb at the top of each post. If you want more background, Sidewire provides the option to click through to the original article, and also pulls in recent articles on the same topic.
“Initially we’re expecting to have a great uptake within the insider community, but we’ve actually seen empirically in our beta tests that people who are not normally engaged with political news have gotten really into the type of analysis on the platform,” Bromberg says.
Considering that only 41.9 percent of voting-age Americans showed up to the polls in 2014, engaging a broader segment of adults in political discussion is essential to impacting future policy.
It’s easy to imagine Sidewire translating its platform to other news verticals, whether that’s business, finance, sports, or even the entertainment industry. Providing a curated news feed for consumers, as well as special privileges for influencers, is a concept we’ve seen from nearly every major social network, but there’s yet to be a single platform that serves both newsmakers and news consumers simultaneously.
Naturally, I asked Bounds when the tech media version of the app would be released.
“There’s no reason why we couldn’t build Sidewire for other verticals, but right now we’re exclusively focused on politics for the 2016 election,” he said.