Talking To Others

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. – Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

I judged the Debug Politics Hackathon yesterday. The winner was Second Opinion, a Facebook Messenger bot that allows users to send the URLs of stories they have read and the bot sends back a similar story with a different take on the issue (a second opinion). The bot does a bunch of other cool things but you get the gist of it.

Two other hacks I really liked were Phoneocracy that connects people of differing opinions via phone to talk to each other and PespecTV which is “chatroulette for political discussions.” Both of these hacks had issues which got in the way of them winning, but the basic idea that the key to debugging politics to is to get people of opposing views talking to each other instead of at each other is spot on.

Like Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said …….


Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    there’s a hard limit to the number of people one can communicate with to reach the point of knowing them. this is the reality that the mass media exploited to increase its undue influence, the one to many model. now we have the many to many model, but here a thousand voices all cry out at once. it takes time to adapt to this new epoch. we are seeing that in the here and now. it’s the discontinuity stage of our social evolution. it’s messy, but interesting.

    1. Vendita Auto

      The problem is the echo chamber of only hearing those that wear the same colored sash we connected with.

  2. William Mougayar

    It seems that the dumber the bot, the more useful it is; like the Second Opinion example which probably relies on a straight forward semantic analysis of text, run against a database of news.Am surprised that Google (or someone) hasn’t come-up with a Gmail (or email) Bot add-on. We spend so much time inside our Mailboxes that it ought to come with some bot.

    1. David C. Baker

      I like that sentiment. Then I thought about Wikipedia, which may be the best example of crowd-sourced data. I wish there was a Wikipedia for opinion. That would be worth reading. I usually get close to something like that in the comment section of an Ars Technica article.

      1. William Mougayar

        Wikipedia for opinion- HuffPo? 🙂 🙂 Or via a simple syntax add-on in a Google search.

      2. Twain Twain

        Wikipedia for opinion is being developed by a team in SF with a different vision from Blockchain.I like their idea.

    2. Seine

      Why would you enjoy a Bot add on with my Gmail account..It scares me

      1. William Mougayar

        To do very simple repetitive things, like say Thank you, or “I’ll get back to you” or “Let me think about it”, “I like it”, etc. Bot wouldn’t take over responses, but assists with them.

          1. William Mougayar

            I’ll check it out. thanks.

    3. LE

      Am surprised that Google (or someone) hasn’t come-up with a Gmail (or email) Bot add-on.I can answer that for you. For the same reason that car manufacturers in the years before the japanese came to our shores didn’t add helpful small features to cars. It adds cost and doesn’t bring in additional sales. Cars bought emotionally. You want a certain GM vehicle (let’s say) you aren’t going to buy a Ford instead because it has a place to hang your hat. Or a change holder (Honda Accord). Google doesn’t perceive more or helpful features as being important to their business model. Lots of things they could do that they don’t because there is no reason to implement more features when they have pretty much cornered the market. Much different than search which constantly gets better because they can sell more ads. Or a product that drives more traffic to some other product that allows them to sell more ads.I agree 100% that there are things that google could do to make email better. [1] I have for Thunderbird an add on, quicktext, that allows me to quickly reply with snippets of text to common questions. The developer of this product got a job at google and ceased to develop it so it wasn’t compatible with new versions of Thunderbird.[2] Major problem for many users.[1] How about just a button that say ‘got it and thanks!’.[2] So I managed to convince the developer to donate the code to someone who works maintaining Thunderbird so that it would be open source and keep up with new versions. At first I offered to simply buy it from him but didn’t even need to. [3] All it took was a bit of explaining how important his product was and he gave it up. (And then he made a donation to the foundation as well to boot). This is a guy that ignored emails from the ‘someone who works maintaining Thunderbird’.[3] I was willing to do that but also felt that angle would get me more attention and what I wanted so…

      1. William Mougayar

        Wow Thunderbird. That brings back memories. I was a fan and user, back in the day. It had something special. I thought Mozilla took it over.

  3. JimHirshfield

    All too often people talk AT each other, instead of TO each other…and that is no way to get to know someone. Can a bot fix that? Is “second opinion” a fake news reply engine?Happy MLK Jr Day. Worth remembering what he and so many others fought for.

    1. jason wright

      where, when, and by whom was the term ‘fake news’ first used in this debate?

      1. JimHirshfield

        I would Google that for you, but I’m not certain if the first few search results are real or not.

        1. jason wright

          i don’t know the answer, but it would be no surprise at all if the incumbent mass media coined the term as a marketing strategy to set its ‘official’ news product apart from ‘news’ generated through modern networks and platforms. i haven’t followed the issue at all closely, but this ‘fake news’ story itself feels fake in its origin.

          1. JimHirshfield

            ^ Fake Comment ^

          2. jason wright

            “The medium is the message”.That maxim holds true more than fifty years after it was first expressed. There’s data and there’s information. They are transformed to ‘news’ by media corporations to serve their requirements. Politician favours media market reform. News about politician is unfavourable. Simple example, but it highlights what news is, a tool and a weapon deployed by vested interest to serve vested interest.

          3. kidmercury

            humorously some of the loudest messengers of the “fake news epidemic” are deployers of fake news themselves. the biggest example is the washington post, which made a big deal about fake news, and then published the story about western media outlets under russian influence (which they later retracted) and the story of russians hacking into vermont’s energy system (which they also later retracted).

          4. Alex Murphy

            Mistakes happen, wrong reporting happens, errors in opinions happen.The act of retraction vs double down is what previously reported in what starts to set apart fake news.

          5. pointsnfigures

            No doubt. CNN, NYT, WaPo all propagated fake news during the last election cycle and post election. Suppose a Congressman says something designed to scare people that is their opinion. Often, biased journalists will write it as fact. They are stenographers, not journalists.

          6. LE

            Even worse are the shows such as Erin Burnett (which I watch) or Chris Matthews (which I also watch) which have entire segments dedicated to goading talking heads into giving a certain story even more legs. They do have 2 sides to the rebuttal but it’s like wd-40 the carrier goes away and the active ingredient remains (or something like that).

          7. awaldstein

            not a generalizable truth.everything doesn’t suck and everything is not fake news

          8. Cam MacRae

            They’re seldom stenographers these days. Mostly they just repackage the press release.

          9. ShanaC


        2. Twain Twain


        3. ShanaC


      2. Jake Baker

        Seems like the wide spread use of Fake News started in/around the second presidential debate — see Oct 9-15 data point as first time it crosses 10 (and then increases substantially from there) on google trends:…Date of second US Presidential debate was Oct 9th: http://www.uspresidentialel

  4. jason wright

    what is the atomic unit of news?

    1. JimHirshfield

      The alphabet

      1. jason wright

        not economic vested interest?

      2. Girish Mehta

        And what is the atomic unit of life ? Again, an alphabet – A, T, C, G.

        1. JimHirshfield


    2. ShanaC

      a story

    3. Alex Murphy

      a is reporting facts. editing is applying a point of view to those facts. stories are sometimes news … but stores can also be fiction, i.e. fake news being news if these were the facts, but since they aren’t facts they are in fact fake news, aka fiction.

  5. awaldstein

    Like the winner as the most useful and tied to what the web can do well.I feel strongly though that the infrastructure of the social web itself is problematic for engagement on topics that require nuance and thought, listening and thinking, not just sputtering responses, posturing and noise makingDon’t like to dump urls, but this addresses my point of view on this as best i could a few weeks back.

    1. Vendita Auto

      Hmmm dare I respectfully say have more children

  6. Alex Murphy

    People have opinions, people want those opinions validated, and the Internet and fake news more broadly allow for any opinion to be validated.This is in contrast with the point of view of trying to understand.So many lessons from the past:- Seek first to understand, then to be understood (this requires actively listening)- Forgive first- Turn the other cheek- Treat others the way you want to be treatedand on and on and on.

  7. pointsnfigures

    Active listening, but also active questioning. The reason someone might say, think or feel something might be totally dependent on something that happened to them recently. Digging down and finding the root cause for their opinion is also a key to an answer.

  8. John Pepper

    I hope something like Phoneocracy can integrate with Twitter where everything is AT each other it seems. It could suggest to people going AT each other to take it “off-twitter” and to the phone/voice chat instead to work it out. It’s not lost on me that Twitter popularized the “@” symbol too 😉

    1. fredwilson

      that would be a wonderful thing

  9. kevando

    This post made my month. Thanks.

  10. Brian Allman

    This sounds so useful, too bad they missed the preceding days of the Presidential election! “…The winner was Second Opinion, a Facebook Messenger bot that allows users to send the URLs of stories they have read and the bot sends back a similar story with a different take on the issue (a second opinion)”.

  11. LE

    With all due respect to MLK, a few things. First, many people don’t fall into the category of ‘strong beliefs loosely held’.Second, with written comments on blogs such as this (or anywhere else) people already have the opportunity to hear others opinions. I wonder how many opinions have been changed by hearing opposing points of view and why hearing it by voice will make it better (and not, in fact, worse)?Third, sometimes you just have to recognize, that for a host of legitimate reasons, people are different and there is no bringing them together. As an example of that, even when people spend months or years in therapy (say for marriage counseling) they quite often (as anyone who has been through this knows) still end up divorced. Ditto for jobs, employment and a host of other things out there. Baggage, difference in mentality and temperament and fairness the list is endless. [1][1] And then ironically they end up in a later relationship with someone who is either similar or importantly accepts them the way they are and ….

    1. William Mougayar

      The assumption is of course, that people won’t undermine each other, while seeking to communicate. Resolving conflicts and narrowing gaps of misunderstandings are two different things, – the first one being much harder to achieve.

  12. David A.

    Thanks for coming to the event and judging, Fred! It was a lot of fun. If anyone wants to know more about the Second Opinion project we put a quick demo up at: http://www.secondopinionnew… Obviously this was just a proof of concept built in a weekend, but hopefully we can turn it into something real.

  13. Owen

    Getting people with differentiating viewpoints to talk seems nice, but how often do people actual change their minds? Studies show that people become more entrenched with their per-existing opinions when faced with facts/opinions that don’t support theirs.

    1. ShanaC

      often enough. Usually it has to do with being exposed to stories and being outside of the same like minded opinions they always hear

  14. Deb Mills-Scofield

    I’ve wanted an ‘anti-recommender’ service – to do exactly this – if I read an article on FB, Feedly, Pocket etc. I’d like a recommended article on the opposite viewpoint – when can I get this?? 🙂

  15. Joy Kennelly

    What I find hilarious with techies is they always forget the human element and think only tech will solve what really boils down to human relationships.Millennials are afraid to date and be rejected so they create dating app after dating app rather than get their feelings hurt in person by speaking to someone they might like.Now it’s evolved to hiding behind technology to discuss politics! Fred, you’re encouraging the distance and lack of humanity by awarding these guys, because mostly likely the hackathon was primarily guys like they mainly are.I love my liberal friends and they love me… in person and online. We met because of other common interests and working environments.Until people respect each other as people and develop friends and business relationships outside their bubble of myopic thinking and gender investing, then tech will continue to be solely one viewpoint, and one viewpoint only – male.Women naturally develop relationships with all kinds of people because we are relationship driven. It’s sad to me that men continue to refuse to see the need for women in tech because perhaps then there wouldn’t be so many replacements for actual human interaction created.Studies prove today’s millennials are more depressed, have sex less, and feel more isolated and they’re the generation with the most tech involvement. It needs to stop.Technology shouldn’t replace human interaction. Those in power shouldn’t reward such behavior. Why not encourage developers to stop isolating, stop replicating human engagement and actually create something that solves another problem? Like human blindness, homelessness, sex trafficking, any society ill?That’s all. I feel those in power have the responsibility to create a better society. Not disenfranchise an already isolating, polarized, disengaged society by rewarding those who develop tools that are worthless and don’t solve anything other than fear of human relationships.

    1. Twain Twain

      Have hope, Joy. I’ll share a secret: it’s a woman who has invented the system needed to make AI more humanistic and representative of all of us.Ray Kurzweil of Google on AI, July 2016: “Emotions and human language are the most cutting-edge of human intelligence. Emotions are not a sideshow. Consciousness is subjective. And, fundamentally, that (subjectivity) is not a scientific concept.”Amit Singhal, former Head of Google Search, Nov 2015: “Meaning is something that has eluded computer science. Natural language processing—or understanding what was said—is one of the key nuts we will have to crack.”So male engineers have had 60+ years to figure it all out and they haven’t been able to:* https://www.technologyrevie…They’ve only known how to build sexist, racist, biased AI:* https://www.technologyrevie…*…It’s not only the fact the tech disintermediates human relationships, it’s the case that the technology in no way enables and supports diversity because BIAS IS BAKED INTO THE CODE.That bias being how a narrow demographic of investors and engineers think and what they prioritize and value — which doesn’t reflect the diversity of the country’s population, much less the world.

      1. Joy Kennelly

        Exactly right. There are numerous females who have made major contributions to the tech field, but only 4% are currently funded making this opportunity even more limited than most industries. I also agree that as long as white males control what is funded, what is awarded, what is built, then we have little hope as a society of changing the current dynamics of disenfranchisement and societal ills.It would be really cool if those who responded that they want to hear differing political viewpoints, actually put their money where their mouth is and consider funding me to attend the inauguration because I am objective and report both sides of what I cover. It’s why I’m invited to most, if not all, the major tech conferences in Silicon Beach.It’s also why, as a Republican, I was invited to attend Obama’s first Inauguration and included in so many political events that normally only Democrats attended like the private breakfast with Jane Harmon, John Lewis and Buzz Aldren.Here’s the link for those who want diversity and opposite opinions than they normally hold in real life, not just technology, to observe the inauguration through my perspective:…I promise it will be fun, interesting and unique. Just like every Joy’s Travel Adventure is..:)

        1. Twain Twain

          Women can make much more of a difference by learning how to code and BUILDING THE TECH — rather than going to anyone’s inauguration and raising media awareness. There are already lots of women who do media awareness of diversity issues (and they’re to be commended).However, the real difference happens when women actually CODE & SHIP THEIR VISIONS.*

          1. Joy Kennelly

            And most women don’t have carpal tunnel issues like I do. I’ve actually built numerous wp sites and other freebies, but prefer to have an expert create the vision I want because the coding, to learn, will take a lot longer than just having someone whip it up in 8 hours like another developer has said they will do. I am not going to the inauguration to “raise awareness.” I’m going to participate in a historical activity, have an amazing life experience, see my son, and share my travels with my audience. That’s all.:) Have a good one. Gotta run. Time to pack…

          2. ShanaC

            I worry that programming isn’t enough. CRUD doesn’t equal a great product

          3. Twain Twain

            Systems 101: garbage in => garbage out.This applies to male and female engineers, young+inexperienced and old+experienced alike.I encourage people to learn how to code because it’s another tool and another frame of reference — just as marketing, communications, etc have their tools and processes.Whether or not they’re any good at programming is another issue entirely. There are Professors of AI and PhDs who’ve spent decades coding (since childhood) and it could be argued the Natural Language frameworks they’ve come up with are … CRUD.And that’s why we’re all lumbered with content filters and classifiers that amplify and perpetuate “fake news” and filter bubbles.

    2. ShanaC

      we move more for jobs where we make less and have more debt than our parents at the same age. We have less of an ability to put down roots and have communities of support. That’s depressing.I wouldn’t say the dating apps are depressing as much as a function of the changed nature of relationships (as in marriage types) – we expect more from our partners these days

  16. creative group

    FRED:An similar opinion that Lawrence Brass promoted that we partly agreed with then realized the opening up to different opinions not based upon facts but disception, misinformation, fake news, fake talking points designed to convince the lazy who don’t research is not healthy, desired and definitely not what MLK message meet or would even embrace. This current iteration is more akin to Jim Crow which he fought against.MLK QUOTES:We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.Martin Luther King, Jr.Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.Martin Luther King, Jr.The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.Martin Luther King, Jr.Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.Martin Luther King, Jr.———–MLK Letter from Birmingham Alabama Jail…———-

  17. Salt Shaker

    Just like there are acceptable forums to conduct certain types of biz–in person vs. email, for example–there are acceptable forums to discuss political or controversial topics or subjects. Social too often isn’t the right place. There’s limited mechanisms to prevent car crashes, or it’s the proverbial echo chamber. Generally, it’s one or the other. I already engage in Second Opinion type behavior if/when watching TV news. I regularly flip between FOX and MSNBC. It’s startling how diff the same news is interpreted, shared and presented, but it does open my horizons to how others think rather than continually live in a silo.

  18. Mike Bloomberg

    Thanks for coming by and judging!

  19. JaredMermey

    FWIW – this comments section and community is often my source of Talking with the “Other Side.”

  20. Grace Schroeder

    I’m waiting for a site to compete with the Facebook news feed dedicated to breaking down the Facebook echo chamber.

  21. LE

    I really liked your intro at the hackathon. I will summarize it as:”…I am here talent scouting” [1]The others seemed to say a variation of:”I am here because my world ended on November 9th ….”[1] That’s a compliment. It takes a great deal of effort and sitting through countless events like this to find gems in either ideas or people. Not saying there aren’t other reasons.

  22. Rob Underwood

    I was there yesterday with my son to watch the presentations. Great event, and great ideas.What I did wonder, and put to a bit of a tweet storm after ………was whether there was critical mass of citizenry who want to use these apps, including a diverse cross-section demographically, and, more specifically enough folks from the right who want to engage.Recognizing my own bias here, my impression is that there while both “sides” exist in their own echo chambers, I wonder if those on the right are as interested in having dialogue as those on the left with the “other side.”The political leanings of most of the folks yesterday was clear – it was nearly entirely anti-Trump from what I could tell, and largely left leaning. Many of the apps, especially/including the ones Fred highlighted, essentially are two-side platforms that rely on both sides showing up to talk to each other.When I go on social media and see all the “deplorable trump train pepe frog guy” accounts and their various memes and accusations of “libtard” even when there is earnest engagement in political debate, I wonder if the right really wants to engage. Again, I fully recognize the left also has its memes and less than helpful twitter accounts and social media use too.This is not to discourage the work of yesterday. We need more of this, a lot more. I just kept thinking 1) it would be even better with more diversity of political opinions, 2) do we have a citizenry that really on the whole wants to do the hard sustained work of ground work democracy — going to city council meetings, debating and deliberating policy proposals, and 3) overall, is the problem one of not enough/the wrong apps and tech, or something more fundamental about our shared commitment as individual citizens to the hard work of democracy? Is a problem of it being “too hard” to engage that tech can fix? Or something deeper?John Heilemann, one of the judges, asked an interesting question when someone showed a hack the DNC app to get people more engaged in DNC policy. He said, and I paraphrase, “Who says the DNC really cares at all what the people think?” I thought that brutal honesty was really important and represented another thing kind of nagging at me — much of the tech yesterday assumed elected officials are concerned with the will and welfare of the people and I’m not sure that’s really case for many if any of them, right or left.

  23. Mike Williams

    Fred, thank you so much for acknowledging our app, PerspecTV! We’re with you, Dr. King, and President Obama: we need to deepen our empathy for each other through personal experience outside our bubbles. We see video connections as a scalable way to do so, and with our focus on broadcast, we hope to maximize the impact of every discussion. If anyone reading here is interested, we put up a pre-beta demo showing the app prototype we developed at Debug Politics NYC: You can also sign-up to receive notification when we go live in beta. Thanks!

    1. Rob Underwood

      Mike, I was there yesterday and thought you and all the presenters did a great job.I wrote a long-ish comment below and wanted to ask you a question I had throughout the event — how do we get a critical mass of people of diverse views, especially folks on the right, engaged in these conversation. I also think we need to make sure we have older folks on these apps too (i.e., ancient folks like me who are over 40).I think many of us – at least many of the folks who attend events like yesterday or take time to comment here – agree that we need to get outside our bubbles. But that means we need folks “of all bubbles” to want to self-pop. Call me skeptical, but I’m not seeing that happen. If anything I’m seeing folks dig in their heels. Do you have any ideas on how we really engage? (I’m not so sure this a problem tech can fix alone, by the way, but happy to be wrong).

      1. Mike Williams

        Rob, that’s great to hear. I’m glad you were there and enjoyed our presentation.As for your comments, it’s hard to know exactly at this point where a product of our sort would go in terms of audience mix, etc. We’re made for web, not mobile, so that might actually make it easier for a broader age demographic, but there might also need to be targeted “hours” to bring certain groups into our tent, e.g., people who are actually living with Medicare, etc.As for gaining traction in general, that’s always the right question! I do think that we’d be able to escape orbit after launch if we attain a critical mass with a big enough audience at least one market segment, e.g., college-age, politically-interested people. Our belief is that there are people of all stripes who do want to engage. It’s not all just the outer 27% on each side. It’s that fat middle that we’re most interested in for our platform. Hope that answers your question somewhat!

  24. Chimpwithcans

    Our company is growing and we just moved into a new office block. Today I spent an hour or so knocking on doors introducing myself. I met doctors, animation artists, lawyers, dentists, financial advisers. I am now invited to a breakfast on Friday with other tenants, and I have a prospect for subletting a portion of the new office because of my brief efforts.Talking to others is interesting and worth it.

  25. Pete Griffiths

    The deep flaw in all such approaches is the well meaning assumption that topics can be resolved by rational interaction. Such interaction is only possible if both parties are, at the outset, to a greater or lesser degree, rational. A huge percentage of the world’s population is pre-rational.

  26. ShanaC

    Happy MLK Jr day.Is talking to each other enough – isn’t it really listening to each other?

  27. cavepainting

    I doubt if this is a divide a smart bot can fix. If anything, technology, social media and the aloofness enabled by the internet has exacerbated the tensions between people. What can we do to develop better understanding of each other and of people whose lives we can scarcely fathom? I do not know, but it has to happen in the real world.There are reasons to be hopeful. I do believe that the next generation born after 1990 is different.They are less ideological, less cynical, more inclusive and more open.

  28. Davis Filippell

    Excellent quote! I am working on a similar mission of breaking news bias, currently by building PolarNews (, a daily email that pairs polarized perspectives on an important topic to let readers see both sides. Look forward to getting in touch with Second Opinion!@fredwilson:disqus and others, will you subscribe (

  29. LE

    all for the export of natural gas, not for any local or regional benefit (or national benefit–straight to the ports). So no. Just no.So in other words you acknowledge that it benefits others elsewhere in the country, just not people in your community. After all exports are exports.Perhaps what your opponents should have done was figure out a vig for the local community. That’s typically I think something that politicians are less likely to reject. This is kind of part of the angle with marijuana legalization (in addition to the built in support money is a large part of the process).

  30. LE

    Seems clear to me. Bring in dollars to our country from outside of our country. To me that is good.Let’s say you sell your product in the US and assuming constant demand you are taking money out of another bakers hands. If you sell same product in Europe you are not taking money (in theory unless there is another exporter) out of a US vendors hands. Benefit to our country seems obvious.Wrote the above and then found this article which gives an additional angle:…Bottom line: This is a NIMBY issue. Sure you don’t want it in your backyard, I wouldn’t either. So I guess I am mainly taking issue with the ‘benefit a few’ part of your statement.