February 27, 2014

Today marks the public launch of State, the “global opinion network” from Jawbone founder Alexander Asseily.

Sounds like just what the Internet needs, right? Another place for people you don’t know to opine about anything and everything.

But it’s what State does with those opinions that Asseily hopes will set the platform apart.

Asseily explained to Poynter via phone that the goal of his new service — on browsers at State.com and on iOS starting today — is to connect users to people and content in meaningful, deep ways. “You can think about State as elevating the structure of the network from people to opinions and points of view,” he said.

Users “state” about a topic by choose from among 25 million topics already in the system (they can also add their own). Then, they pick up to three reaction words from State’s database of 10,000 expressions (or add their own). Those keywords get mapped and compared with other users’ opinions, resulting in a snapshot of where you stand and recommendations to engage with other users who agree or disagree with you. (The platform also allows for freeflowing conversation beyond the connecting keywords.)

To make those connections, the site has to understand what each of those 10,000 expressions really means — a big technical challenge. Semantic architecture is what Asseily says has been missing from web communication from early Usenet to today’s Quora.

“We don’t want to create another silo system,” he said. “The goal is actually to break down the silos.”

Users can “tune” in to broad areas of interest — usual suspects like music, tech and sports — to come across ideas for what to offer opinions on. They can also tune in to friends imported from Facebook or Twitter, or people whose views they come across while using the site.

Mapping out opinions

While the site has been invite-only until this point, resulting in a tech-heavy user base, it’s still pretty fascinating to browse the site and get a sense for prevailing opinions on everything from “House of Cards” to Flappy Bird to Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.

Something that stood out for me: Opinions about Facebook as a whole tend toward the negative, while views on the company’s new Paper app are glowing:

Among other insights State has highlighted: some common ground between views on capitalism and socialism (“misunderstood” was a word frequently used by people weighing in on both), and a pretty overwhelming distaste for genetically modified food.

Still, State’s ability to beautifully collect and make sense of so many disparate opinions will only be useful to the extent that it can scale and acquire a critical mass of users. Until then, opinions won’t be representative of much at all, but Asseily said State is seeking out users from around the world.

Revolutions and recommended content

State has some high-minded goals for the site. In a blog post, Asseily alluded to revolution and democratic ideals:

My brother Mark and I recruited a world class team to create State. We believe that everyone deserves a powerful voice online, no one should be left out, and when everyone’s opinions count, a more complete picture emerges and good things happen.

But on a micro level, State could simply be another useful platform for stumbling across content tailored for you. As the network grows, it will be able to use each user’s opinions to offer more content suggestions — both conversations taking place inside State and articles and information outside it.

Among the sharing tools: a “Stateclip” button for the browser bookmarks bars, allowing users to instantly share content from around the web. Once the content is clipped, State crawls the page for topics, and you can either state about the story itself or about any of the related topics State chose. It’s a potentially powerful way to share and discover links.

The State app is available for iOS today.

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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