How to avoid the businesses you hate: There's an app for that

We use enabling tech to help us find good restaurants and highly-rated stores and services businesses. But can it help us create a better separate but equal society?

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I woke up stunned. The polls were wrong -- the "wave" of change that we were expecting did not transpire as many of us thought they would. We woke up to a country where half of us voted one way, and half of us voted the other. The races were so tight in some states that the margins could almost be classified as rounding errors in a regular election.

I was reminded once again that we live in a highly divided nation, one in which half of the people support policies and values which I find objectionable, and the other of which at least I have some hope in finding some common ground. Short of a significant social movement, this divided nation is where  -- I fear -- I will have to live for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, we have control over who we invite into our homes and our personal lives, for the most part. The coronavirus pandemic at least has allowed us to avoid anyone we don't care for -- and well, anyone, period. Sure, on social media and at work, we might encounter someone whose views we find morally and ethically repulsive via virtual contact. Still, it's easy enough to avoid that person and, if necessary, enforce those boundaries. 

If Uncle Archie is that intolerant jerk that we used to hate to invite over for Thanksgiving because he said all the quiet parts out loud repeatedly, well, guess what -- we aren't having an in-person Turkey Day this year, and he doesn't get the Zoom invite, either.

However, it's a bit harder to avoid people you can't stand when you have to buy food and supplies, and inevitably, have some essential service performed. How do you even know if that takeout place is owned by someone who made donations to the candidate you hated during the election? Or who has political leanings towards ideas you can't stomach?

Separate but equal

That's where technology comes in.

Two new mobile social apps by Silicon Valley startup PoliDine -- founded in November 2016 by a group of former software engineers from Twitter, Microsoft, and Google -- are looking to change how and where we choose to spend our money on food, goods, and professional services. PoliDine is ethical consumerism in the age of Facebook.

The company's two separate and parallel-developed apps, BluePlate and RedMeat, targeted at the Democrat/Liberal and Republican/Conservative crowds, respectively, may finally allow everyone concerned to make the right political choices about where to get their takeout burgers, wings, and pizza.

Each of the apps has been modeled on Yelp, except that they have a characteristically blue or red theme depending on the user's political extraction. So no concerns whatsoever about being on a network with people who believe differently than you do -- it's all in the colors.

Each app's technical implementation is nearly identical, but the community management and marketing teams are entirely separate.

PoliDine is staffed with liberal and conservative employees who vet and list businesses that align with each respective network's correct political leanings. This is achieved using crowd-sourced data, such as public voter registration records, political donation databases, and a sophisticated, patented political alignment algorithm designed by former Cambridge Analytica contractors.

Although all software development is done on public cloud services like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, the different teams do not even work in the same logical workspaces. For example, they use completely separate instances of Slack, and use different VPNs. 

Everything is completely partitioned out and abstracted so that they never come in contact with each other (including sophisticated firewalls to prevent emails from crossing political boundaries). A third-party firm in Norway is used for common codebase development and systems integration.

The founders of PoliDine decided that two discrete apps were necessary because after performing initial market research, they discovered that each demographic has very specific requirements, and it was clear from their interactions they wanted Separate but Equal treatment.

Not only did each group not want to be seen in public with each other (this was determined in early R&D and focus groups before the pandemic), but they also didn't want to socialize on the same network. Constant exposure to the other side on Facebook and Twitter ensured that.

PoliDine determined that each business review should be free of each group's abuse. Nobody should be subjected to advertising from any business that has political views they find offensive or challenging their accepted norms.

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If you're not sure if you need BluePlate or RedMeat, because you might fall somewhere in between that spectrum, don't worry. When you sign onto the PoliDine network for the first time, you'll be subjected to a 127-point multiple axis questionnaire to determine your political leanings, and you'll be placed into the correct box along with the people you actually should be eating out with.

The development team at PoliDine told me that an extremely small number of people may not be placed in either box. These individuals belong to a statistically invalid minority of the population that is capable of overlooking political differences and still enjoying social interaction. For these folks, neither app may be suitable or even necessary.

Ideological challenges to finding the right business

Of course, there are some challenges to finding specific types of takeout cuisines on the PoliDine network, depending on which app you are using.

During my private preview of the service, I had both BluePlate and RedMeat installed on my iPhone and I had a few issues with locating, for example, a decent Liberal Barbecue takeout in Lubbock, Texas.

Equally, I was challenged to find a local Tea Party-Affiliated Halal Middle Eastern restaurant. Vegan Right-Centrist Libertarian was difficult as well.

The company is actively working with restaurant owners and hospitality groups to fill the gaps between those that are underserviced in specific markets. It looks like it may present some new business opportunities.

Finding specific types of cuisines in some demographics can be challenging and may not be solvable at all, but the folks at PoliDine are gathering some really good data in the process.

For example, suppose you are using RedMeat. In that case, it will tell you which businesses in your area are LGBTQ-friendly or under minority or Jewish ownership, so you can avoid or protest them as you deem necessary.

And likewise, if you are using BluePlate, it will let you know if your local coffee shop owner recently renewed their NRA membership or is affiliated with pro-life/anti-abortion organizations.

When you check into any of these businesses, you can even report how many EVs or diesel-fueled trucks you see in their parking lots to validate that they are attracting the right kind of folks for each listed demographic.

I mean, it wouldn't be appropriate for climate change believers and their Priuses to be hanging out at Chick-Fil-A, right? Or for the guy with the gun rack on his F250 to be dining at Smoothie King?

Businesses want to know -- and their customers should want to know -- who is patronizing them.

The developers at PoliDine originally designed both BluePlate and RedMeat for restaurants, but since the pandemic, they have been actively adding other kinds of businesses, such as doctors, lawyers, and other services, as well as laundromats, landscaping, nail salons, hairstylists, pet grooming, HVAC/plumbing, and pest control.

This sort of crowdsourced political information is extremely valuable and ultimately will help us create a superior segregated, compartmentalized, and far less aggressive society.

We should never have to run into each other on our off-time, virtually, or if there's ever an effective treatment for the coronavirus, in-person. It's bad enough when we are forced to play nice with each other and be civil at work. It's exhausting.

Seriously?

Folks, if you haven't realized it by now, this article is satire. But given the rancid flavor of political discourse we are all now being subjected to and the level of intolerance on both sides of the fence, it would not surprise me at all if these types of services were already in the works.

Many of you may be aware that I was once involved in the creation of food discussion communities. Food and restaurants are subjects that are very near and dear to my heart. I still run a large food discussion group on Facebook, focused on South Florida.

Food and dining attract people from all walks of life and from all different backgrounds.

It is one of the few things in a democracy that brings us together and allows us to appreciate all the unique things that different cultures bring to the table.

My friend Anthony Bourdain died by suicide four years ago at the age of 61. Restaurant and street dining was his passion. He ate and drank (with gusto) with people from all kinds of cultures and vastly different social stratification.

It did not matter if he was in Iran or Indonesia; he always found a way to connect with people through food, no matter how they felt about our nation and its policies. No matter how different.

While there is no way I could know how Bourdain might feel about this particular issue -- and he had strong opinions on many things -- I know that in his restaurant, Les Halles, when he was a working chef and not traveling worldwide, he welcomed everyone.

I know this because I experienced it myself.

Our union's foundation and the basic tenets of our Constitution were created in taverns in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Here, folks from all kinds of political extractions -- ones who had views which would look both familiar and very alien to us today -- would sit at opposing sides of the table, drink alcohol, and break bread.

We are talking about people who fought publicly in the media of the time and were avowed enemies -- and many of them had so much seething hate for each other their arguments did not end just in fisticuffs but often full-on duels with pistols at 20 paces.

In taverns, the precursors to modern restaurants, bloodshed was avoided, and deals across the table were made. This is not a process that tavern owners interfered with. If you behaved yourself, and you followed the rules of the tavern, and you paid your bill, you were allowed to come back. Period. End of discussion.

The coronavirus has only made us more estranged from each other in this highly contentious political environment. How are we supposed to find common ground if there are no common grounds to sit down and share a meal? To buy each other a few cocktails? A place to grease the conversation by talking about neutral subjects before getting down to the very difficult business at hand of bringing our country back together?

Someday, we will return to living life in public. Eventually, those of us "at-risk" will be able to leave our homes to dine out. But America will not only look very different after years of economic stress -- we will have to be under the realization that half of us, right from the get-go, are completely incompatible with each other.

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The only way to bridge the kind of divides we are now experiencing as a culture is to demonstrate to the other side that we are capable of initiating a conversation. And that means welcoming them into our businesses and our homes and showing that our hospitality is what makes us human, that nobody will be refused entry if they respect basic tavern rules.

Before the pandemic, I went to restaurants to seek human contact, to find diversity. Sometimes I found people who held beliefs and views very different from my own. But I went there to listen because restaurants are where real people's voices are represented, not those from professional political ideologues.

Do you think our society warrants BluePlate or RedMeat apps to segregate our political culture? Talk Back and Let Me Know.