When I first encountered the political matchmaking quiz at I Side With, I found it to be a quirky and fun little site. But the more I returned, and I have many times, the more I learned about myself and my beliefs. With my standard results came a list of specific answers that I gave and how they agreed or disagreed with my most compatible presidential candidate.
Today, www.isidewith.com is approaching the 1 million mark with regard to the number of surveys taken. After just four months in existence, nary a solitary trip down any political internet highway can be taken without passing some mention of the site in its comment boxes. From Drudge Report to NPR, this quiz has absolutely gone viral. So, I decided to send an email to the site and see if I could get an interview. Within a couple of hours, 29 year old Taylor Peck responded, and he agreed to an informal telephone conversation.
CM: Why start this particular site?
Taylor Peck: Nick Boutelier and I were roommates after college and have been friends for a long time. Nick has been a lifelong disenfranchised American voter. I'm a political news junkie and have been since I was five years old. We created iSideWith as a tool to save voters time and evangelize the voting process by allowing them to share, compare and discuss their positions through social media. We believe that if voters are reminded which political issues are important to them and are shown how their views align with political candidates they will be more likely to vote and influence their friends and family to do so. So we spent more than a year researching stances for candidates and created a quiz for us to take. In doing so, we were able to define who we are politically and who we align with.
CM: When did the site launch?
TP: We launched in March 2012.
CM: Was there a noticeable time frame when you knew your site had gained traction?
TP: Yeah. It was actually just in the past month. Nick and I enjoyed the quiz and results so much that we started sharing it with friends and family. Before we knew it, our friends were sharing with there friends on Facebook and Twitter. Their friends started sharing with their friends. Now we are approaching 1 million users who have taken the quiz with over 100,000 visitors per day.
CM: Wow! So how do you stay on top of all of that traffic?
TP: Nick and I both work full-time jobs, so we literally spend all of our free time monitoring the site and researching candidates' positions and new issues.
CM: That's true! So how do you pin down a candidate like Mitt Romney, who is known more for his "Flip-Flops" than Ralph Lauren?
TP: Yeah, you know it takes a lot of time and research to stay on top of it. Candidates always switch or modify their stances, so we have to see it and modify the questions accordingly. Even the President changes stances. So the site is constantly updating. We have a complex algorithm that takes all of your answers and the weights that you gave them and compares them against every candidate. Users answer a series of questions and “weigh” which issues are the most or least important to them including taxes, Medicare, gay marriage, the war in Afghanistan, and global warming. If a user selects an issue as “most important,” it is matched with the candidate(s) who have placed the most emphasis on that issue in their campaign. After they have completed the questionnaire, our unique algorithm compares their answers to the views of the 2012 presidential candidates and provides a ranking, by percentage, of which candidate and party they agree with the most.
CM: How do you know if your algorithm is working properly?
TP: Nick and I take the quiz frequently and we also rely on user feedback. If a candidate's position is wrong our users correct us. Dialogue over email with our users has really helped us with our research.
CM: Your website says that you are politically unaffiliated. Have you ever donated to any political campaign?
TP: We are not affiliated with any political party, candidate or interest group. iSideWith is absolutely neutral with regard to any party or candidate.
CM: I noticed that there is a "Donate" button on your site. Why do you have that if not to raise money for a political agenda?
TP: We have self-funded the development, servers and hosting. As our traffic has grown the servers and hosting costs have gone way up. That’s why we ask for donations. Without the support of users that appreciate us, there is no way that we can keep the site going.
CM: What would you like to say to the readers of PolicyMic?
TP: Telling someone to vote is a good thing to do... but many times people are not informed. So if you like what you see with our site, share it with your family and friends. It will help us out and help educate the voters on the issues that matter to them.
CM: Thanks for your time Taylor. Our readers really appreciate it.
TP: Thanks for bringing us to PolicyMic. I had never heard of it until a couple of weeks ago. It's a very cool idea!
So there you have it, PolicyMic friends. On a side note, to help them research and to keep Taylor and Nick honest, they encourage all users to contact them using the email address info@iSideWith.com if you believe that a stance was incorrectly represented or that your results are incorrect. They strive for accuracy because in the end, it is the voter that matters. And if you've got a few bucks extra, send it to isidewith.com before they have to resort to web ads in order to offset the costs of hosting and servers.