Start Singapore: Facilitating respectful online discussions

Mr Gaurav Keerthi is developing a commercial version of his discussion software.
Mr Gaurav Keerthi is developing a commercial version of his discussion software.

Facilitating respectful online discussions

Sensitive topics like race are difficult to discuss harmoniously online given the way trolls can poison the debate, so social entrepreneur and pilot Gaurav Keerthi has taken matters into his own hands and created a new website.

The site aims to encourage more respectful and rational comments.

Comments are not immediately posted. The comment must be endorsed by random members of the community before it is posted.

"Many newspapers, like the New York Times, have disabled their comments section because of trolls who post vulgar and insulting comments," said Mr Keerthi, 36. "They are all reactions, not thoughtful responses. aims to improve the level of online discussions for policy debates."

As a former school debater and debating coach, he noticed that students could be terrific kids in real life but were horrific on the Internet.

Their comments were inflammatory and tended to follow the pack, he added.

Mr Keerthi wanted to discourage this practice and fell back on his debating experience to see how online discussions could be improved.

He started as a social cause to improve debates on policy issues ranging from the Women's Charter to car ownership in Singapore to financial regulation of religious organisations.

Mr Keerthi began the site's development three years ago. Today, the website has 400 registered users and about 7,000 visitors.

Issues raised are explored with a fact-based background brief. Commenters can share their insights and opinions on the policy options.

Mr Keerthi has also collaborated with other organisations, like, to host online discussions.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, the chairman of and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said was an opportunity for his organisation to bring forth deeper conversations about race relations online in respectful tones.

"We do hold such conversations on racial harmony regularly with youth, community leaders and our stakeholders, but the challenge is how do we bring across these facilitated conversations online, where we could have useful discussions on sensitive and heartfelt topics in a respectful manner," he said.

The collaboration with allowed it "to bridge this gap and meaningfully engage the online community", said Dr Puthucheary.

Mr Keerthi is now developing a commercial version of his software that will let social media firms and other Internet companies encourage better online discussion.

AIA, Konica-Minolta on the hunt for start-ups

Insurance firm AIA and Japanese tech company Konica-Minolta are looking for start-ups to participate in their new Digital Healthcare Accelerator.

There will be two intakes for the 12-week course, with the first starting on Feb 22, with up to 10 start-ups from Asia in each group. The accelerator is based in Block 71, Launchpad@ One-North.

The firms stated this week that they want to support entrepreneurs to deliver innovative solutions in areas like healthcare delivery and integrating health and patient data. Participants will receive mentorship and business guidance but no funding. Support will include business guidance, research, product strategies and marketing.

At the end of the course, the start-ups will pitch to investors and entrepreneurs for funding. At this point, AIA and Konica-Minolta may consider investing if the start-ups are relevant to their businesses, said the statement.

The accelerator will be run by Nest, a global investment incubator which has worked with large corporations to operate customised accelerator programmes.

Need a ride to see the doctor? Uber's here

Need transport to get to your doctor's appointment? Ride-sharing app Uber can help.

It signed a deal this week with Practo, an app that lets people make a doctor's appointment online.

When the Practo user's appointment is drawing near, he will get a reminder alert on his mobile phone and also see the closest Uber car available.

Patients can then click the reminder notification to complete the booking process. Practo users in Singapore, India, Indonesia and the Philippines can use this new feature immediately.

Grace Chng

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Start Singapore: Facilitating respectful online discussions'. Print Edition | Subscribe