As an incentive to get people to sign up and converse with someone from elsewhere on the political spectrum, Hi From The Other Side is offering a Starbucks gift card for each pair of conversationalists matched.
After the presidential election, it became abundantly clear to Henry Tsai, an MBA student at Harvard Business School, that he and others lived in an echo chamber where they didn’t hear from people with different political perspectives — or, when they did, they ended up fighting.
Within a few days, he launched an app designed to address that chasm: Hi From The Other Side, where people who sign up are matched with others holding different political views, in order to have conversations and find common ground.
And currently, as an incentive to get people to sign up and converse, Hi From The Other Side is offering a Starbucks gift card for each pair of conversationalists to be matched.
Starbucks donated 300 $10 e-gift cards — something it does with many nonprofits — after Tsai contacted the coffee company.
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“If two strangers are having a conversation and they want to meet up in public, one of the first places they think about is Starbucks,” Tsai said. “Having conversation over a cup of coffee — it make things more friendly.”
Tsai’s project, built with technical lead Yasyf Mohamedali, a senior in computer science at MIT, has about 4,500 people signed up. There’s a currently a waiting list.
When people sign up, they say who they supported in the last election and who they would like to talk to (for example, an independent might want to a Clinton supporter, or a Clinton supporter might want to talk to a Trump supporter, and vice versa).
They also disclose a little more about themselves, such as what their hopes and dreams were when they were young — details that help make sure those who sign up want to have civil discussions and to help find existing common ground to make better matches, Tsai said. Matches are made using an algorithm.
If matches can’t be found locally, the app will try to find someone elsewhere in the country, with participants free to connect by phone or video chats.
Hi From The Other Side also provides a conversation guide to get the talks flowing.
The feedback has been positive so far, Tsai said.
A pair of women in the Bay Area video chatted, and then invited each other to their homes, he said. Others have said that after the initial chat, they agreed to keep emailing and calling each other.
To make sure both sides of a matched pair show up to redeem their free Starbucks drinks, the app gives each of the two participants half of the code to redeem the card.
Working together to get their free coffee, Tsai said, is also a good way “to just get people to work together, even before having a conversation.”