DEMOS - Here's a guide to using the new Electech
There's an app for virtually everything you need, and plenty for what you don’t (remember Yo?); the internet’s expansion into the most esoteric corners continues apace. No hobby or niche demand is safe from technological attention.
So of course, this year, the election is getting big billing online. But it’s not just the memes and the Twitter storms: a new generation of apps and websites is taking pole position before Britain goes to the polls. Here is a guide to using the new electech.
Home (office) video
Periscope (periscope.tv) is a live video-streaming app, launched by Twitter a few weeks ago. Users film themselves; followers can watch the footage as it happens. So far, so self-obsessed — the political link is its growing popularity with journalists and punters who are recording themselves watching the debates or out on the campaign trail. Sky News and the BBC have already signed up: Sky presenter Kay Burley used Periscope to broadcast the behind-the-scenes action (generous term) of the ITV leaders debate last month. Obviously, besides possession of a smartphone and creation of an account, there is no qualification policy for using Periscope, so those looking for serious election coverage should be discerning, although it’s easy to amass a catalogue of grainy videos of punters video-bombing politicians and catching elusive gaffes that the mainstream media might miss.
Founded by 20-year-old Exeter student Matt Morley in 2013, Tickbox (tickbox.org.uk) is a quizzer, except instead of questions about obscure European Cup victories from the Seventies, this site helps to explain what policies actually mean. Ironically, arch doctor of spin Alastair Campbell is an advocate. A previous incarnation of the site for the European elections in 2014 attracted 40,000 visitors a day; its latest iteration, launched yesterday, asks you questions on specific policies to match you to the party that reflects your feeling. There’s also a useful display of candidates’ integrated social media feeds.
Morley talks up the fact that his quiz can match you to all the minor parties too — but you’ll need to consciously click the “Don’t care” option on lots of policies to come out as a natural supporter of Class War or the English Democrats. He’s calling it a “digital door” to democracy, while conceding that most people want a “happy medium between a quiz and something very heavy”.
If by this point in the campaign you’re rather bored of reading acres of copy about the election, turn to Verto (bitetheballot.co.uk/verto), which takes a visual approach. You’re asked if you agree or disagree with statements on trios of policy questions and polled on which issues are most important. Tinder-style, you swipe left or right on each question. Replies translate to “dials” like rainbow-coloured wristbands, showing how closely in percentage terms an individual’s preferences and constituency and national averages match different parties.
The brainchild of campaign group Bite the Ballot, a new version is out this week — just in time to catch the last newly registered voters. Questions were devised by think-tank Demos, and more than 100 people helped develop the app, including the ex-innovation director of the M&C Saatchi agency.
Siri has her quirks, foibles and strengths, but those seeking a technological sounding board for political questions should try her clued-up cousin Ask Amy (askamy.net), an Android app where you can pose political FAQs as if texting friendly “Amy”. Developed by cross-party activist group No One Ever Told Me About Politics, it was created to respond to what its PR officer Binita Mehta, a 24-year-old Conservative councillor, calls a dearth of political education in schools and the “gobbledegook” in official political communications.
Nice features are that it takes a few seconds to reply, as if Amy really were furiously typing, and more subjective issues (“What is Right-wing?”) are answered by website links rather than definitive statements.
Anything Amy can’t answer she invites you to ask by email. There are 400 answers in the database — but “What is a hung Parliament?” and “Is Labour Left-wing?” leave Amy stumped. It’s early days.
It’s not all about the issues — sometimes you just want to dump a steaming pile of virtual excrement on the head of a detested politician. Hooray for Pigeon Poop (pigeonpoop.com), which lets you do just that. Pick a party political pigeon and direct their dirty protest. “It’s incredibly satisfying,” says app creator Nigel Hall. “One of the problems in the political world now is a complete denial of reality — trying to get some point of engagement is really important.” Around 15,000 games have been played so far (they’re aiming for a million poopings) and Hall says that nine per cent of players choosing a Labour pigeon selected Miliband to poop on. Free and available for both iOS and Android, the app has a sister website, the National Opinion Poop, which runs statistics on which politician has fallen most foul of the public — and the pigeons. At the time of writing, Farage is edging it on 18 per cent, Cameron is on 17 per cent. Sturgeon and Miliband tie for 14 per cent, Clegg is on six per cent — behind Boris Johnson on eight.
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