Web start-up Ruck.us aims to engage the politically independent


Ray Glendening (L), and Nathan Daschle, the co-founders of Ruck.us., an online political platform that allows people to come together on issues rather than political parties, at their office in Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)

Web start-up Ruck.us aims to engage the politically independent

A quote from boxer Mike Tyson rests atop an old fireplace mantle in the third-floor offices of Ruck.us, an Internet start-up near Logan Circle: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

The laminated paper that bears the quote — and its message of quick-thinking and resilience — is a carryover from founders Nathan Daschle’s and Ray Glendening’s days in politics. As a fledgling company, the sentiment still applies.

Ruck.us connects people with similar social and political views through an online network where they can swap opinions and take action. Still a small operation, the Web site launched in September and counts roughly 12,000 users to date.

The founders aren’t prototypical techies.

Before starting the company, the pair held top spots at the Democratic Governors Association. Their fathers are former senator for South Dakota Thomas A. Daschle, who had also been the Senate majority leader, and former Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening, both career Democrats.

Those credentials now seem to go against the start-up’s stated mission: Use social media and the Internet to supplant the role of political parties as the main outlet for political expression.

“We just had a conversation that we kept returning to about how outdated and antiquated political parties were for engagement,” said Glendening, chief strategy officer. “Then it kind of hit us that if these two party guys felt this way, then this is kind of where everybody is going.”

The firm’s primary audience is independent voters, a growing and increasingly influential segment of the American electorate. Independents tend to rally around a particular issue or philosophy rather than a political party, the founders said, and the Internet can provide a place to congregate.

But Ruck.us is not the only start-up angling to capture them. Those who feel disenchanted with the two-party system have attracted attention from other Internet sites, as well, particularly after the rise of the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Connecting to these voters is not easy. Independents tend to be less politically engaged on social media than their partisan counterparts, said Aaron Smith, a senior research specialist with the Pew Research Center. The organization’s surveys show 22 percent of adult Internet users took to sites such as Twitter and Facebook for political reasons during the 2010 election.

“Generally what we see, particularly when it comes to social media, is the people who are most active tend to be partisan proponents on either side of the issue or have fairly strong ideological leanings,” Smith said.

Daschle and Glendening head to Austin this week for South by Southwest, a technology and entertainment festival, where they plan to debut a new Web site design and features that bring Ruck.us closer to their original vision.

The latest version borrows methodology from the online dating site OkCupid. Ruckus members are asked a series of user-written questions about national and local issues that can range from same-sex marriage to D.C. public schools.

“They’re not questions written by a pollster, they’re not sterilized for content, they’re not written from an academic standpoint,” said Daschle, the chief executive. “They sound like the way normal people talk about politics.”

The Web site then matches you with people who hold similar views and suggests you join groups organized around particular topics called “rucks” — a rugby term for when players fight for possession of the ball.

These “rucks” then serve as a place for people with a common interest to express their views, share news and information, and call others to action.

“We’re not saying politics would be better if we just had different people in there,” Daschle said. “To the contrary, we’re saying it’s not the fault of the people; it’s the structures that have to change.”

by Steven Overly

Capital Business Staff Writer

A quote from boxer Mike Tyson rests atop an old fireplace mantle in the third-floor offices of Ruck.us, an Internet start-up near Logan Circle: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

The laminated paper that bears the quote — and its message of quick-thinking and resilience — is a carryover from founders Nathan Daschle’s and Ray Glendening’s days in politics. As a fledgling company, the sentiment still applies.

Ruck.us connects people with similar social and political views through an online network where they can swap opinions and take action. Still a small operation, the Web site launched in September and counts roughly 12,000 users to date.

The founders aren’t prototypical techies.

Before starting the company, the pair held top spots at the Democratic Governors Association. Their fathers are former senator for South Dakota Thomas A. Daschle, who had also been the Senate majority leader, and former Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening, both career Democrats.

Those credentials now seem to go against the start-up’s stated mission: Use social media and the Internet to supplant the role of political parties as the main outlet for political expression.

“We just had a conversation that we kept returning to about how outdated and antiquated political parties were for engagement,” said Glendening, chief strategy officer. “Then it kind of hit us that if these two party guys felt this way, then this is kind of where everybody is going.”

The firm’s primary audience is independent voters, a growing and increasingly influential segment of the American electorate. Independents tend to rally around a particular issue or philosophy rather than a political party, the founders said, and the Internet can provide a place to congregate.

But Ruck.us is not the only start-up angling to capture them. Those who feel disenchanted with the two-party system have attracted attention from other Internet sites, as well, particularly after the rise of the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Connecting to these voters is not easy. Independents tend to be less politically engaged on social media than their partisan counterparts, said Aaron Smith, a senior research specialist with the Pew Research Center. The organization’s surveys show 22 percent of adult Internet users took to sites such as Twitter and Facebook for political reasons during the 2010 election.

“Generally what we see, particularly when it comes to social media, is the people who are most active tend to be partisan proponents on either side of the issue or have fairly strong ideological leanings,” Smith said.

Daschle and Glendening head to Austin this week for South by Southwest, a technology and entertainment festival, where they plan to debut a new Web site design and features that bring Ruck.us closer to their original vision.

The latest version borrows methodology from the online dating site OkCupid. Ruckus members are asked a series of user-written questions about national and local issues that can range from same-sex marriage to D.C. public schools.

“They’re not questions written by a pollster, they’re not sterilized for content, they’re not written from an academic standpoint,” said Daschle, the chief executive. “They sound like the way normal people talk about politics.”

The Web site then matches you with people who hold similar views and suggests you join groups organized around particular topics called “rucks” — a rugby term for when players fight for possession of the ball.

These “rucks” then serve as a place for people with a common interest to express their views, share news and information, and call others to action.

“We’re not saying politics would be better if we just had different people in there,” Daschle said. “To the contrary, we’re saying it’s not the fault of the people; it’s the structures that have to change.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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