Watch Fiskkit launch on stage here.
This interview with Fiskkit founders John Pettus and Casey Tong was conducted by the team at Job Portraits during preparations for the LAUNCH Festival.
Let’s start with your elevator pitch.
Fiskkit is a forum for talking about news that matters, and favoring facts, logic, and civility.
By combining two spaces we consider to be broken — online comments and fact checking — we make both of them work much better. I got the idea from a blogger I read a lot, Andrew Sullivan. He popularized “fisking,” which is when bloggers would refute articles and op-eds in detail, line by line. Fiskkit is a commenting platform for fisking online content, which also provides analysis of how trustworthy the story is.
Our goal is to get to a place where we all agree that the sky is blue, the grass is green, and up is not down. Then we can get into complicated discussions about what the marginal tax rates should be.
Why this problem and why are you the right people to solve it?
I joined the army 30 days before September 11th and did two tours in Iraq. I’ve always been kind of a news junkie, and I think the Iraq war got pushed through because we did not have good enough civil discourse in this country, certainly in terms of challenging the dominant media narrative at the time. Then, after the 2012 election when it was so clear that people were able to say anything they wanted in the media and it would go out unchecked, I thought, why do people feel like they can go in front of millions and say something that is Google-ably not true?
Our team is up to about 12 people now, and I’ve been working for two years on Fiskkit. We’re unpaid, working nights and weekends because most of the team has day jobs to make rent. Sometimes it’s frustrating because we’re moving at one-fifth speed. And yet, everybody is super committed. For the last two months we’ve worked through every weekend to prepare for the public beta.
In your ideal world, what does the month after launching onstage look like?
We have a private beta of about 200 people right now. But there’s a real network effect to what we’re doing, so we really want to get more people on the system. This is not for people who don’t give a shit. It’s for people who care about what’s going on and they want to get into it. We all have friends like that, right? Then we can kind of acid test our statistics and get user feedback. We’re trying to take something complicated-but-important and make it as simple as possible. That’s the challenge.
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