“Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite?” Google that phrase and you will get thousands of results. It just goes to show that, to a large extent, the “Q&A” model is broken on the internet. Where once Yahoo Answers and Quora were considered the bright young things of Web 2.0’s “Read/Write Web,” today there is only the chaos of myriad search results. Let’s face it, many have tried to really crack Q&A (remember “Mahalo”?), but few ever got very far — and most became zombie sites.
But look again and you will notice something. A site called Parlia sits at No. 3 on that search result for “Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite.” But Parlia only launched (in stealth mode) in October last year.
So how can this be?
Well, this upstart in the Q&A space has now closed a pre-seed round of funding from Bloomberg Beta, Tiny VC and others (amount undisclosed).
And as founder, and former journalist, Turi Munthe tells me, the idea here is Parlia will become an “encyclopedia of opinion.”
“We’re a wiki: mapping out all the perspectives on both the breaking stories and controversies of the day, as well as the big evergreen questions: does God exist? Is Messi really better than Ronaldo? The way we’re building is to also help fix today’s polarisation, outrage and information silo-ing,” he tells me.
While most Q&A sites are geared around X versus Y, and focused on rational debate, Parlia is trying to map ALL the opinions out there: flat earthers’ included. It’s aiming to be descriptive not prescriptive, and is closer to a wiki, unlike Quora, where the authors are often selling “something” as well as themselves as experts.
The site is already on a tear. And also highly appropriate for this era.
Right now top subjects include “How to stay healthy during quarantine at home?” or “What are the effects of spending long periods in coronavirus isolation?” or “Will the coronavirus crisis bring society together?” The list goes on. Users see the arguments calmly, dispassionately laid out, alongside counter-arguments and all the other arguments and positions.
Says Munthe: “In 2016, I realized the age of political consensus was over. I watched as Britain spilt maybe a trillion words of argument in the build-up to the Brexit Referendum and thought: there are no more than a half-dozen reasons why people will vote either way.”
He realized that if there’s a finite number of arguments around something as huge and divisive as Brexit, then this would be true for everything. Thus, you could theoretically map the arguments around gun control, abortion, responses to the coronavirus, the threat of AI and pretty much everything.
So why would anyone want to do that? It’s, of course, a good thing in itself and would help people understand what they think as well as help them understand how the rest of the world thinks.
Luckily, there is also a business model. It will potentially carry ads, sponsorships, membership and user donations. Another is data. If they get it right, they will have surfaced foundational information about the very ways we think.
Munthe thinks all the users will come through Search. “The media opportunity, we think, is 100 million-plus pageviews/month,” he says.
Munthe’s co-founder is J. Paul Neeley, former professor of the Royal College of Art, and a service designer who’s worked with Unilever and the U.K.’s Cabinet Office. Munthe himself has been exploring the systemic issues of the media ecosystem for some time. From founding a small magazine in Lebanon, reporting in Iraq in 2003, then starting and exiting Demotix, to launching North Base Media (a media-focused VC).
The temptation, of course, is to allow bias to creep in return for commercial deals. But, says Menthe: “We will never work with political parties, and we will set up our own ethics advisory board. But that understanding should be of value to market researchers and institutions everywhere.”
So now you can find out how coronavirus will change the world.