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This article was published on July 24, 2013

Stephen Fry is tickled by Ticckle’s online video debate platform

Stephen Fry is tickled by Ticckle’s online video debate platform
Ben Woods
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Ben Woods

Europe Editor

Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional Ben is a technology journalist with a specialism in mobile devices and a geeky love of mobile spectrum issues. Ben used to be a professional online poker player. You can contact him via Twitter or on Google+.

Stephen Fry is a British institution, and if you don’t live in the UK there’s still a pretty good chance you’ve heard or seen him somewhere.

As such, when Fry gets uses and invests in your fledgling startup, you know you’re off to a good start but London-based Ticckle can boast just that.

Xan Blacker, co-founder of Ticckle, explained to The Next Web that Ticckle’s main aim was to “tickle your brain” through discussion of ideas – he actually doesn’t really like the word debate, he explained. You see, words like debate or grass-roots have a strange effect on people, a few see it as a call to action or something weighty, while the rest just switch off altogether.

“What we try to do is almost subvert the concept of debate and reduce it down into something that’s quite small – it’s just an idea, it’s just a Ticckle. It’s something that everyone can participate in.

When you do that, talking about politics or all these kind of things isn’t just for academics and intellectuals, it’s more universal. That’s essentially what we’re getting at. People, especially young people, are much more politicized in a way that they haven’t been in the past and we want to provide a focal point for people to talk about ideas, opinions, a changing world but at the same time keep it fun and not be pretentious.”

Aimed at the UK for now (although accessible from elsewhere), the platform itself is straight forward. You pretty much just need to sign up, record your 30 second video clip (Ticckle) and let it loose. If you tickle someone into responding, they’ll Ticckle you in response. It all sounds very light-hearted. And there’s no end to it, that’s not the point. It’s for spurring debate, not solving problems. There are no right or wrong answers.

Ticckle itself  has been operating in stealth mode for more than nine months already, but in June had its proper launch for the iOS app, with iOS being the target of choice not least because of Stephen Fry’s known love of Apple, and therefore the amount of traffic he drives every time he posts a Ticckle.


Banish the trolls

One of the happy side-effects of using video to interact is that it puts a face to an opinion. The internet is a large, unregulated wilderness in terms of trolls, but Ticckle hopes that having to be so open with identity will foster truly interesting conversations and ideas.

Fry’s involvement is largely thanks to Blacker’s co-founder Richard Hardisty. The pair had a scheme to write him a letter and leave it in a secret drama group that Hardisty and Fry attended, but gave in and did it the old fashioned way: via his Public Relations people.

Shortly after, Hardisty and Blacker met up with Fry and he was on board with the idea. Like the two co-founders, rather than looking to make quick millions he was intrigued, Blacker said.

While Fry’s financial investment in Ticckle is undisclosed, to date the company has raised around £100,000 from four angel investors. Fortunately for the pair, the investors they found were so taken with the idea that they backed it without even seeing a MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

That’s not to say they don’t want to turn a profit, just that it isn’t the primary motivation, Blacker said proper efforts to monetize the site weren’t due for another 12 – 14 months. There’s even some very early talks with Babelverse to see if work can be done for translating videos, which would ultimately enable global debates with no language barrier, but Blacker stressed it is very early days.

Whether or not the duo will be able to effectively monetize the platform won’t be known for another year at least, I suspect that advertisers might not be too, ahem, tickled by the idea of their ads appearing before or alongside controversial discussions, but as a platform for debate that has aspirations of breaking down language barriers and banishing trolls, there are worse things to aim for.

And yes, that is a picture of Stephen Fry scratching rather than tickling his forehead. You try and find one.

Featured Image Credit – AFP/Getty Images

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