“Going live is a big shift in how we communicate, and it's going to create new opportunities for people to come together,” Mark Zuckerberg’s status read last year when the ‘Facebook Live’ feature was first released.
Yazan Madanat agreed, but he also believed that Facebook, even when live, was lacking and had many problems which he thought he had the solution for.
Madanat’s idea to start a live online debate platform dates back to 2014 when the war on Gaza made him realize the inadequacy of social media networks in terms of presenting different points of view.
“All my friends on Facebook agreed with the posts I was sharing and so there was no conversation to be held; the dialogue was cut off before it even started,” Madanat said during an interview with Wamda referring to the echo chambers created by social media.
“Echo chambers” is a term usually associated with social networks to describe how on these sites users with different lines of thought are organically divided into respective compartments, which creates reverberations of one’s own views and eliminates opposing ones.
Therefore, instead of bridging conflicting sides, polarization is enhanced and encouraged.
In an attempt to fight this phenomenon, Madanat and his partners launched Qall Out right before the US presidential elections. Qall Out is an online live debate platform that brings together online users to discuss controversial issues head to head.
The platform’s users, which reached 10,000, can either watch others debating in real time, or initiate their own challenges that other users can accept. Debates are usually 45 minutes long and can either be moderated or unmoderated, and other users can vote for the premise or against it.
Qall Out is not the first solution to the problem of echo chambers, sites like Quora and Debate.org pretty much have the same cause, but what’s different about the former is the medium used: video.
Video is a much more effective debating tool than text which usually leads to flame wars, explained Madanat. “When you are on video the chance of having a very poisonous or toxic debate is low,” he said.
The reason behind that, according to the founder, is the user’s accountability imposed by videos, when text disregards it.
The use of text allows users to depend on anonymous identities and get away with hate speech or fake news. It separates users from their text, which cannot happen through video where users are much more reluctant to use discriminatory discourse or foul language because their identities are revealed.
Another important Qall Out distinction is the live feature.
The sense of immediacy Madanat believes makes the debate more confrontational and in turn much more effective. This is the main difference between Qall Out and Munathara whose users use video as recorded commentary rather than a live interactive tool.
Debated topics on Qall Out range from politics and social issues to sports. Recently, new American policies have had a good portion of the debates; in fact “trump” is one of the most trending hashtags on the site. Debaters seem to be interested in discussing whether the newly elected president is a fascist or not, whether his travel ban is discriminatory or pragmatic and so on.
Monetizing on controversy
Qall Out is not ashamed of doing business.
Many civic tech solutions that promote democracy and critical thinking just like Qall Out, are initiatives that receive funding from donor organizations.
Until now the company raised half a million dollars from angel investors including Rabee Ataya the founder of Bayt.com. It intends to monetize by imposing participation fees to online tournaments. Other revenue models include introducing premium accounts, white labelling the product, and owning content royalties.
In the future, Madanat hopes to introduce Qall Out Arabia and perhaps Qall Out India and Turkey. He believes that his product is very relevant to all cultures especially in current times.
“We are living in very decisive times. The world is becoming more polarized. It’s about time to connect conflicted ideologies and give them the tools to have a constructive dialogue,” he said.