A new database of opinions has launched to map what people anywhere in the world think about pretty much anything.
Parlia, a UK startup whose majority shareholders are its founders, French journalist Turi Munthe and designer and researcher J Paul Neeley, is trying to gather all of the opinions about various topics in one place to facilitate a civil debate in our highly polarised society.
As the startup has just raised a pre-seed round led by Bloomberg Beta, an early-stage venture firm backed by Bloomberg L.P., we caught up with Turi Munthe via email. Here is our conversation, minimally edited for clarity purposes.
Why did you build Parlia and what do you hope it will achieve?
Parlia is an encyclopaedia of opinions.
We begin from a very simple premise: there is a finite number of opinions in the world about everything, from the pros and cons of capitalism through the issue of Shakespeare’s authorship to the question of what is love. And if there is a finite number of them, we can map them all in some sort of giant library of ideas. That is Parlia.
Because the internet is a catalogue of everything - facts (Wikipedia), books (Goodreads), film (Netflix), music (Spotify) - but we have no library of opinions.
And because we are at our most polarised in a generation and we need to build the tools to help us listen to each other. We hope that Parlia becomes a perennial resource of the web - a Wikipedia of argument - and help us understand each other.
How do opinions get featured? Is there any selection process?
Parlia is a wiki. Join up, contribute. The only editorial function we will have is in designing the guidelines of engagement. But even there, we will build those out in partnership with our community.
How are you going to distinguish opinions from facts?
We think they are very different things.
While Parlia’s role is to platform all the common opinions and arguments about a given question, our community will always flag matters of fact.
If sizeable groups of people believe the earth is flat, we need to show that. But we also need to say it is wrong.
Where is the line between opinion and hate speech and who draws it?
We are building those rules with the community. On Parlia, the community can flag arguments that are factually incorrect or offensive.
What is the advantage of having one place featuring ‘finite number of opinions’? What are the dangers?
Unlike facts, ideas exist in relation to each other. It makes sense to bring them all together under a single roof, partly because it makes them easier to understand in context, and partly because it makes it easier to see how ideas and opinions cluster. There is a peculiar overlap, for example, between views on Brexit and views on the Lockdown that is interesting to explore.
The danger of Parlia is that we will be platforming some terrible ideas. How we manage that will be critical. Flagging misinformation and flagging offensive content are central to our success.
Simply featuring the opinions will probably not be enough to stimulate a meaningful debate. How is Parlia going to support a constructive dialogue?
We do hope that our mere design reminds viewers that there is always multiple sides to a story: every argument you read on Parlia will come with its counter-argument beside it. But we are also looking at building engagement tools that nudge viewers to explore ideas they are not so comfortable with through badges, through polling on the site, and eventually with chatbots.
What technology do you use to run Parlia?
Our front end is written in React and the back end in Go.
Can you give us some examples of how has Parlia contributed to debate so far?
Here are two examples. The Parlia map explaining the conspiracy theories around coronavirus and linking to WHO resources saw 24,000 per cent growth in two weeks, educating people on the realities of covid-19. And, at the other end of the spectrum, a map on Parlia questioning police complicity in the Palghar lynching in India (extremely controversial regionally, ignored here in the UK) saw our highest daily engagement.
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