"If you're looking for solid answers from the crowd," said Crazy Raccoons founder Ric Militi, "anonymity is everything." Big follower counts on social media can be useful for polling and crowdsourcing ideas from fans and friends, but privacy matters when it comes to acquiring robust and honest feedback about important issues and products.
Social media sites like Quora, and the poll functions inside Twitter and Facebook, are great for getting a broad overview of opinion, Militi said, but followers can also skew results. "Even posts from big Twitter celebrities are only seen by a fraction of the network," he explained. "Replies are inconsistent, and they aren't really representative of what regular people feel about issues."
His team built Q&A application Zip to help business source high-quality opinions from the crowd. The app is flying up the iOS popularity charts, Militi believes, because anonymity yields "more satisfying" results. Anonymity allows users to get consensus without disclosing their identity, and to answer [questions] without fear of repercussion."
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Zip has thus far sidestepped spam and harassment challenges faced by other anonymous apps like Yik Yak and Whisper by including proprietary, baked-in profanity filters, a "one-and-done" fast flagging system, and mature content that requires manual opt-in.
The cloud was crucial for growth, and the app received early support from Microsoft's BizSpark program. The goal has been to build an application that SMBs, enterprise agencies, and entertainment companies can use to test markets and get honest feedback about products or services. The in-house code complements a Tinder-like UX that emphasizes both speed and accuracy. Unlike Twitter polling, Militi said, "all users regardless of follower counts are able to get mass consensus to their questions. Those that are asked for a week are already getting statistically accurate results with a 99% confidence level and 5% margin of error."
The Q&A polling market is pretty saturated. How does Zip work and what unique problems does the app solve?
Zip provides group consensus from users in all 50 states with real-time results to user-generated questions that are both asked and answered anonymously. It is truly a social app, designed to engage users in an ongoing national conversation with UX that leads to Zip being called "Tinder for the intellectually curious" by our users. While other apps focus on serving users with traditional polls and surveys, Zip provides content from all different verticals and categories of interest in random order.
Most social media sites monetize with advertising. This is a challenge for anonymous services like Zip. What is your business model?
Our team has prioritized making Zip a tool media companies have been looking for to solve an outreach need in the market. We have grown organically through its adoption by strategic media outlets we have strong relationships with, including CBS 8 San Diego, iHeartMedia stations, and celebrities. [The team] built in a native advertising model for monetization, unlike [social] platforms that are now monetizing by limiting access to page followers without paying to boost posts.
What are a few unusual trends have emerged from the answers?
After the first six months, we received 500,000 answers to questions on average each week. The beauty is that people can get truly unbiased answers and consensus. You never know who could be part of the conversation. We have celebrities using Zip and providing answers to user questions or even featuring them on air through TV/radio all the time.
Across the board, we've seen users overwhelmingly support legalization of marijuana use in the US.
Trump's unfavorables are not as high as we have seen them reflected in traditional polls - largely due to the fact that Zip is anonymous and people are more honest in their responses than they are with pollsters or face-to-face surveys. We accurately predicted the early primaries, and [predicted] Trump's unexpectedly high level of support.
We've already seen that by colluding, Cruz and Kasich are actually strengthening Donald Trump's base, even among women.
Let's talk tech! What language is the platform written in? What database structure does the platform use? Is Zip optimized for particular servers or hosting setups?
The iOS, Android and Windows platforms for Zip are all written in C# using Xamarin. Xamarin translates C# to native languages, for example to Swift for iOS and to Java for Android. The middleware is written in C# on an Azure App Service. Our database structure uses Azure SQL Server, geo-distributed east/west coast. App Services are scaled up to 20 instances west coast, with push notifications off Azure Hub and email services through SendGrid.
What can business learn from crowdsourcing?
Businesses—everything from manufacturing and product testing for research to marketing and more—get raw, truthful feedback about their product or company that can ultimately lead to more informed business decisions and a better understanding of the market.
Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.