Conferam is a discussion platform that makes it easy for users to gain new insight by hearing differing views on important topics.
Conferam has two main parts: the highlighter tool and the discussion platform. The highlighter is a simple tool that allows users to annotate and collect interesting content from any web page. For the same reasons that many people like to underline passages in a book, highlighted annotations provide quick access to the core meaning of a saved "resource" (news article, blog post, etc).
The discussion platform allows users to set up invitation-only discussions around the ideas found in saved resources in order to learn the views of others and challenge their own thinking.
Keep reading for further details on both the highlighter and the discussion platform.
How does it work?
The Conferam Highlighter
The highlighter can be used on any webpage to highlight the most interesting content on the page. Once activated from your browser's bookmarks toolbar, click and drag across any text to highlight and save the content.
All resources are saved to "My Library" allowing you easily to keep track of the most thought-provoking content you run across from day to day.
The Conferam Discussion Platform
Just because an idea provokes thought doesn't mean we know how or what to think about it. The discussion platform can be used to challenge an idea with those who disagree with you, or it can be used to solicit insight from trusted contacts that have deeper subject-matter expertise than you do.
Any user can initiate a discussion, inviting specific people to join in. Discussions are launched from within a saved resource, which becomes the supporting article for a central truth claim. Conferam uses an adapted Oxford-style debate format, wherein the initiator makes a truth proposition (some examples below) and participants make arguments in support of, or opposition to, the proposition. Spectators can vote their opinion, thus announcing who they think has "won" the debate, but are prevented from making comments without permission. Spectators who wish to join the discussion can submit their argument to be accepted or declined by the person who initiated the debate. This extra step is designed to weed out the lowest common denominator who wish to lob grenades into a conversation and run (if you've ever read a comments thread on a blog or news article, you know what I mean).
All comments in a discussion are positioned based on their agreement or disagreement with the central truth claim (similar to how debaters are separated on stage during an Oxford-style debate). This allows readers to know the position of the writer before reading the comments and shows persuasion as the location of comments change as the writer's mind changes. Unlike the comments section on blogs or news articles, our goal is not to maximize the number of posts, but to seek out the most complete arguments. This can only be accomplished when both sides are directly addressing each other's concerns.
Discovering the most active and interesting conversations is easy. You can also search by keyword to find the most persuasive arguments about any topics being discussed.
Some examples of ongoing discussions
Here are just a few examples of current discussions, but any topic can be raised.
While capitalism succeeds fairly well, it still has some fundamental flaws that must be addressed by governments.
The core problem with the American political system is that democracy, the voice of the people, has been corrupted.
Photo editing is inevitable and necessary to be competitive in the entertainment industry, but should be given guidelines.
Chinese-style state-controlled capitalism produces better results for developing nations than Western-style free markets.
The leftward shift of the past half century has been, to some degree, facilitated by the conflation of conservatism and fascism.
OK, I think I get it. But why should I care?
New online content is being created at a frenetic pace. Today’s
popular social media excels at broadcasting the events, headlines, and feelings
of the day, but it is a streaming and fleeting medium designed to record
everyday life, not its most significant ideas.
Conferam is an online library where users house the web’s most
interesting and thought-provoking content.
Many arguments sound
like the truth when they are presented in isolation from an opposing view.
That’s why Conferam includes an easy-to-use debate interface where one’s ideas
and thinking can be stretched and challenged by trusted contacts. Popular
social media does not have a “dislike” button and provides a poor venue for
controversy or disagreement. Although Facebook
is often used to promote controversial ideas, civil, persuasive debates are
rarely seen. Conferam is designed to
make it easy for intelligent users to discuss ideas and be exposed to opposing
Further, because Conferam enables the full spectrum of
perspectives to be presented in the same setting on the same page, it will
become the go-to site for thoughtful people to make up their minds on important
issues. The best arguments for and against a truth claim are presented
side-by-side, providing a powerful tool for learning about the issues.
As you can see from the video, we have a working prototype, but there is still much work to be done before Conferam is ready for prime time. The funding we receive will fuel additional development including:
Enhanced discussion interface. The commenting structure will be more powerful and intuitive.
Platform infrastructure. This includes a security audit, improved encryption for private resources and discussions, and the support systems we need for scalability.
Integrating with single sign-on platforms like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Making the highlighter bookmarklet more robust and feature-rich.
Who is Conferam?
My name is Andrew Fennig. I allude to my background in the video, but shortly after graduating from college I began work as a legislative aide to a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, DC. That job was a great eye-opener to the complexities of life and the depth of thought behind multiple sides of any debate. My first year as a congressional aide was invested in gaining understanding of the underlying philosophy of my beliefs and using that prism to rethink the positions I held so strongly. The process of learning why I believe what I believe involved lots of reading and numerous conversations with people from both sides of the political aisle.
In addition to my work on Capitol Hill, I served as a policy advisor and project manager for the State of Indiana. At both the federal and state levels I was responsible for drafting solutions to complex problems and then communicating policy proposals to a diverse constituency. I've lived in a world where ideas, evidence, and sound argument are crucial to success.
Prior to founding Conferam I was one of the first employees of a successful startup focused on creating geospatial software for the agriculture industry. This project is the culmination of my public sector, mission-driven work, and my private sector technology development experience.
For those who are swayed by credentials, I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in International Business, Economics, and Political Science from Taylor University, where I served as Student Body President. I also earned an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and strategy from the University of Oxford.
David is a thinker and is always up for a deep discussion about the important issues of life. In his spare time he also enjoys creating video games and has participated in several 48 hour game-making contests.
Finally, we wouldn't be as far as we are without the thoughtful contributions of these people:
Noah Bresley - Front End Code
Austin Stoltzfus - Front End Code
Dustin Sapp - Business Advisor
Tom Nurkkala - Technical Advisor
Kurt McClung - Storytelling Master
Kristen Fennig - Photography / Design
Kinsey Michal - Original Music
And many others who have provided insights and encouragement along the way.
Risks and challenges
Like any software with a social component, Conferam benefits from network effects. Therefore, the biggest risk is that I'm the only person who actually believes disagreement can be aired online in a civil, constructive, and enlightening way. We've tried to design our rewards to ensure that successful funding requires a critical mass of like-minded people.
As I mention in the video, the user culture of Conferam is of the utmost importance. We would prefer extending the timeline of the project to find the right users than default to sensationalism and hype to build a user base faster. Your help in promoting our project to your most thoughtful friends and associates (of all opinions) would be most helpful.
BETA USER PACKAGE: Be in the first group to receive early access to the beta version of Conferam. Access the highlighter tool to save resources to "My Library", begin building your persuasion score, and engage in discussions with other users. Includes 10 invitations so you can invite your trusted contacts to participate. Your early participation will provide valuable feedback as we build out the full product.
THOUGHT LEADER PACKAGE: Propose the topic and truth statement for a discussion featured on the Conferam homepage. You will have editorial authority over how the discussion is framed, but not on the outcome. Discussions will be promoted for one week and available for viewing indefinitely. This level includes beta user access and a t-shirt.
THOUGHTFUL DESIGNER PACKAGE: Participate in a meeting (in-person or via conference call) with the Conferam development team and help us design the user-interface and prioritize our development pipeline.
ORGANIZATIONAL THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: Host a discussion on your website using the Conferam platform. For corporations, think tanks, educational institutions, and non-profits that are confident enough to put their ideas up against anyone. Invite your readership/constituency to participate and show that you value the truth wherever it may be found. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions about this reward.