Mitt Romney and Etch-a-Sketch-gate. Barack Obama singing “Sexy and I Know It.” Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich runnin’ their mouths like rappers. The three-ring media circus that passes for American politics these days makes it hella hard to separate the fluff from the stuff we really need to know -- like, I dunno, what the heck all the gibberish comin’ outta their mouths actually means when it comes to OUR wallets.
Enter Politify – a new online tool created by 22-year-old senior Nikita Bier and 20-year-old sophomore Jeremy Blalock from the University of California at Berkeley. The two students were fed up with the incoherent politico babble of the GOP Presidential primary, so they decided to make some sense of the candidate craziness with a secret weapon: LOGIC. And oh yeah, NUMBERS.
“The political parties in the rest of the Western world are really connected to the economic impact of what they’re trying to do,” Nikita told Mashable. “In the U.S., they’re a lot more ideological. They view things the way they should be as opposed to what the practical impacts of their policies will be. This bothered me, and I thought I could disrupt it in an entrepreneurial way.”
Here’s how it works: you enter some relevant personal info (everything is protected and nothing is shared) like age and zip code, then Politify crunches the numbers -- using a formula created by Nikita, a political economy major -- and spits out a predicted dollar amount enumerating how each candidate’s economic plans will dent or boost your personal bank account. One candidate, one number, one vote. Simple is powerful, y’all!
So powerful, in fact, that DC’s movers-and-shakers are taking notice -- both parties have been playing on the site, and Obama’s chief technology officer even tweeted his props. The site has generated 170,000 forecasts so far and it was just awarded a $20,000 grant this past Thursday by The Big Ideas @ Berkeley innovation competition -- Politify is poppin’ off for real!
Take that all you haters who think college students just sit around eating pizza and watching Jersey Shorzathons! (Wait, that's my life.) We caught up with Nikita in between hitting the books and creating a game-changing online platform to get his take on why young people hold the information power, who he owes a drink after all the craziness creating the site, and how he plans to make Politify even bigger and better.
MTV Act: How can young people utilize Politify to flex their power in the upcoming election?
Nikita Bier: As the new generation, we have an incredible opportunity ahead of us. We are more connected and have access to more information than ever before. We are no longer confined to soundbites and televised debates. Politify helps us cut through the fluff and rhetoric that has characterized politics for so many years. For the first time, you can quickly and easily make decisions based on solid facts.
What's your advice to young people who feel our government is broken and want to fix it?
Even with something as rigid and gridlocked as American politics, never underestimate your power to make change. All of us have the capacity to bring a new approach to an old system. You'd be surprised how much tradition can obscure great ideas.
It took you a month to write these algorithms. As a student, how did you find the time and what kept you working on this despite all the other commitments of college life?
I started building Politify during one of the most tumultuous periods for the University of California. Student demonstrations were gripping the school and I knew that tools like Politify had the potential to restore sanity to the debate. If scaled, it was an idea that could help millions of people make better decisions and it couldn’t have come at a more important time. So I spent virtually every free moment I had on it. However, all the passion in the world wouldn’t have been enough without my awesome co-founder Jeremy Blalock, who is one of the best engineers Berkeley has seen. And -- of course -- I owe my supportive roommates a round of drinks...I’m sure they’re all pretty sick of hearing about Politify by now.
What do you think is the single most important issue facing young people in this election?
We’ve inherited some pretty big problems. Between our teetering social security system and our expensive foreign policy, our fiscal future is looking uncertain. However, we’re in the middle of an information revolution -- we have the numbers and we can project the impacts of our decisions. Now it’s time to reform the system in ways that will ensure the continued prosperity of America.
What other policies do you plan to focus on next at Politify?
We’re still focusing on improving our coverage of the presidential election but ultimately we plan to incorporate policies at all levels of government, including ballot initiatives and gubernatorial candidates.
The biggest concern everyone has with Politify seems to be the transparency of your formulas and how you derive your numbers. How do you plan to overcome that obstacle? If the average person can't understand the algorithm, how can they trust your platform?
My objective has always been to make complicated information accessible to Americans of all educational backgrounds. We’re rapidly developing a platform so that our users can engage with the math behind Politify. Our vision is to create a collaborative environment much like Wikipedia where anyone can review and suggest changes to our methodology. We’ll be working day and night this summer to make it all happen.