Summary:

Former Jawbone co-founder Alex Asseily is now in the business of opinions with his new social network, State, where users can express their feelings on millions of topics.

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While social networks are largely places to connect with friends (or sort-of acquaintances), post personal news and snoop on everyone’s lives, they’re also home to many opinions. You can’t go a day without someone discussing their perspectives on politics, music, movies, and the like — which  can turn a place like Facebook into an ideological echo chamber.

Although it’s fun to share opinions on social networks, they’re usually not heard beyond one’s own network, especially when there are “influencers” with higher soapboxes to stand on. Giving the average user a chance to share a meaningful insight about the world and have more people hear is the premise behind State, a social network coming out of a six-month closed alpha Thursday that allows people to interact through opinions.

“We’re empowering average people to share a view and feel like that view is counted,” Alexander Asseily, founder of State, said.

Asseily founded electronics manufacturer Jawbone, but began working on what would become State full-time in 2011 with his brother Mark. They raised $14 million in seed funding in 2012.  The London-based 15-person company, which has . Deepak Chopra serving as one of its advisors, will now open up to more users via an invite system.

The main interactions on State are relatively simple: users can type in the name of nearly any topic they have an opinion on — from Diet Coke to The Lego Movie to giving up your seat on a public bus — and choose from more than 7,000 adjectives to “state” an opinion. They can also add a short explanation of their answer. From there, the opinion shows up on a massive graph, ranging from “negative” to “positive,” highlighting certain users’ choices and providing an overall analysis of the topic at hand.

Check out a video of the process below:

By and large, the experience is egalitarian: it offers a broad mix of opinions, and highlights of users with the exact opposite opinion on a particular subject to show the variety on State. Users can comment on others’ opinions, start discussions (although there is no private chat yet) and “tune in” to particular opinions — the network’s version of a follow model.

The platform also offers opportunities for customization. For example, as users continue to state their opinions on subjects, the platform prompts them to weigh in on similar topic in similar channels. They can also completely tune out topics like Food or Entertainment, or even tune out some users.

Users who participate frequently in a given channel are given a spotlight on that channel’s page for their participation, which I believe doesn’t keep everything as equal as Asseily desires. He disagreed: “Our top priority is being able to stand by the commitment that we’re empowering opinions. “But at the same time, we have to recognize other realities. Leadership is a natural phenomenon, and people want it.”

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Asseily said that State’s goal is to drill down on how people feel about a wide range of topics, ultimately creating a database that brands can access. In short, it’s like a long-running, perpetual focus group that shows the opinions of the world, providing a picture of our different points of view across different topics and different geographic locations.

Asseily is also working on producing Insights reports, which aim to capture sentiment about a concept, brand, or event, which are currently free for State users. Insights and data are valuable pieces of information that brands Ford or McDonald’s could tap into —  though Asseily claims that the company is privacy-focused and isn’t interested in gathering individual users’ data.

“The purpose of State is to empower opinion, protect identity and create trust. Then the question becomes about the knowledge generated out of those opinions. But we also need to run a very sophisticated network and be a sustainable business.”

Asseily says that companies will have access to State’s API in the near future, although he wouldn’t elaborate exactly how they could use it. But State could offer, and monetize, something unique: an aggregation of opinions, in plain language, that shows the sentiment for brands. If State manages to reach a critical mass of users who are particularly vocal (Asseily says that people often “state” on multiple subjects in a row during a single visit to the site), then it could provide a wealth of information about social sentiment, as well as some general demographic data. State users, when they sign up, are asked to connect their State to Facebook and Twitter, and share their locations when they offer opinions on topics.

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The most important thing about State is its user experience: not only does it value opinions, it really makes expressing opinions fun. Posting a few times to State throughout the week, I felt like I was willing to be more authentic and honest, telling the truth about how I feel about media, food, and current events. It’s also a great way to go “off brand” — I don’t normally get the opportunity to talk the merits of Twinkies among foodies on any social network, particularly because Twitter is best used by narrowing to a few topics. I believe that this will be a boon for both people looking to make their opinions and data nerds who are interested in how people feel about certain topics — a fascinating way to not only see but directly interact with the opinions of others.

It’s not there yet — early days means that my experience on the site felt empty, and that often there weren’t enough opinions to create a clear and insightful consensus on a given subject — but State could be an intriguing place for average users, the socially savvy and brands to converge.

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