Students develop app to keep peers politically informed

Politips wins $200 prize for 30 second business pitch competition

Pamela Simpson and Justin Taub, ArtSci ’17, teamed up to create the mobile app Politips.
Pamela Simpson and Justin Taub, ArtSci ’17, teamed up to create the mobile app Politips.
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Politips, a mobile application dreamt up by Queen’s student Pamela Simpson, came out victorious at Tuesday’s Dragon’s Den competition.

The event, run by the Queen’s Entrepreneurial Competition (QEC), is a 30-second business pitch competition. Winners receive a prize of $200. 

Politips condenses each political party’s platform points into 150 characters or less. From there, data relevant to the upcoming federal election is presented in a colour-coordinated feed and sorted by party, issue or most contested topic. 

Simpson says the Politips team will use the $200 prize to pay for advertising costs.

The parties included in the app are what Simpson calls the “Big Five” — the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc-Québécois, New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party.  

According to Simpson, she came up with the idea after attending a guest lecture on citizen’s reform with political studies Professor Jonathan Rose last year.

“While he’s talking about this, everyone’s on their phones,” Simpson, ArtSci ’17, said.  

“I was thinking, for the federal election, why is there nothing where people can quickly go, find out all about the platforms, and just move on, instead of going through traditional news sources? That’s when people zone out.”

From there, she founded Politips, which condenses information into digestible, quickly accessible parts for easy reference via a mobile device. 

In March, Simpson sought out a team for the project. She eventually recruited Justin Taub, ArtSci ’17, to help her create the app.  

The two original members have been joined by a team from various schools and backgrounds. Marketing Officer Kaily Schell, ArtSci ’15, and Chief Technology Officer Ian McKenzie, Sci ’17, are both Queen’s students. 

The team was rounded out by Graphic Designer Peter Li, an Ontario College of Art and Design student, and Editor Zach Buck, a University of Toronto alumnus.

Taub said students often present too many excuses for being unaware of political platforms — “like, I don’t know where to start, it’s so complicated” — which are obstacles Politips intends to remove. 

The team took several measures to avoid bias in their collection of data, Taub said.

“We sourced the material as primary as possible. For example, going straight to the Liberal website and downloading their policy PDFs,” he said. 

As he holds more Liberal inclinations, Taub avoided that party along with the rivaling Conservatives. Instead, he handled the Bloc-Québécois and Green Party.

Over the summer months, the team ran the information through a non-partisan U of T graduate student, who works as an editor for the app, along with political science professors such as Professor Rose. 

Taub says the low character count in the app’s description also helps avoid bias. It’s hard to be biased in 150 words, he said.

The team has received assistance from the Queen’s Innovation Connector (QIC), including two weeks of business lectures in May, free office space at Innovation Park and a reimbursement grant of $4,000. 

“They’ve been the real push forward in making this a business,” Simpson said. 

Their lack of French-language content has been a barrier for the start-up, however. Simpson said the lack of bilingualism in the app has prevented several federal MPs from endorsing the product.  

The app was released for iPhone on Sept. 1 and for Android last week. Since then, it has garnered 200 downloads on the Google PlayStore and 300 on the Apple Store

Following the election, the team members say they plan to reassess the purpose of the app and plan for the future.

Taub and Simpson say they may also use the app after the election to search for any similarities between their user data and the outcome of the election.

 

— With files from Jacob Rosen

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