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Making Apps for Political Junkies

Saturday April 17th, 2021
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Making Apps for Political Junkies

The 2012 Presidential election is the first one where people are tethered to their smartphones, and this fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by scores of app makers.

A quick search of Google Play for the word “politics” brings up at least 1,000 apps — most related to political news, election commentary and state-specific politics. The candidates themselves even have their own: Romney for President and Obama for America. Both apps, presumably, were developed by in-house engineers, though neither campaign returned requests for comments. (Romney also used an app to announce Paul Ryan as his running mate, though the rollout didn’t go quite as promised.)

Some entrepreneurs are developing “disposable” apps that are germane for the 2012 election season but may have little relevance later on. Others have more broad-based political apps, not tied exclusively to the presidential race, and hope the upcoming season will boost sales, recognition or user counts.

To be sure, political-app-building is still somewhat of a new market, and business models vary. Some entrepreneurs are creating free apps, hoping to make money from ad revenue down the road. Others are charging fees to download their app or levying ongoing subscription fees to some users. And still other small businesses are profiting by helping politically minded, but less tech-savvy individuals build and publish their own apps for cheaper than they could on their own. (The expense of doing it solo can be prohibitive, with costs ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 or more.)

Here’s a sampling of some political apps on the market, all made by independent shops. Some are so new they have few ratings on either iTunes or Google Play.

Politix — One of the newer apps, it was created as a forum for political chatter. It allows users to take a stand on issues and candidates central to the 2012 election, and then share those thoughts with their social networks, virtual and physical communities, and fellow voters. The free app was launched in early May for iPhones and certain iPads and iPods. Chris Tolles, chief executive of Topix, the Palo Alto, Calif., company that developed the app, hopes to eventually make money through advertising. He says the app was developed to meet user demand for a political forum. “There seemed to be a huge hole in the market,” he says.

Filibustr — This free app, available on Apple devices since May, allows users to find congressional lawmakers across the U.S. and view information about their voting records and positions on important issues. Users can also debate issues and throw a virtual tomato, tip their hat, wag a finger or give a bouquet of flowers in response to candidates’ actions. Reneldy Senat, who volunteered for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, came up with the idea after an interaction with then-candidate Obama. He declined to disclose the number of current users or plans for making money, but said the app attracted thousands of users in its first few weeks.

Parity Politics — This app, available for Android devices since July 2011, displays real-time election polls and graphs related to the race for president and Congress, as well as approval ratings for certain officeholders. It’s also got data, news, editorials, and articles from across the political spectrum, including original content. It costs 99 cents and has a 3.3 star rating on Google Play. “I wanted [poll] information daily and no app could do that, so I built it for myself,” says developer Erhan Kartaltepe. There’s also a free, watered-down version of the app. But that one only has a rating of 2.1 on Google Play.

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