The Internet will ask (some of) the questions in the Fox News/Google Republican debate

On September 22, the Republican candidates for president will be in Orlando, Florida for the next debate. Unlike the last debate, where moderators from NBC and Politico chose the questions, Google-Fox News debate will use Google Moderator and YouTube to bubble up questions from the Internet. Questions can be submitted as text or video through the Fox News YouTube channel. The deadline is September 21st. The video embedded below introduces the concept:

Fox News anchor Brett Baer explains the process below and encourages people to submit questions “creatively” — which means that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could potentially be confronted by a YouTube snowman of the sort he didn’t care much for in 2007.

For good or ill, that kind of question in that kind of costume is likely to be part of the warp and weft of presidential politics in the 21st century. President Obama’s Twitter townhall” featured several questions from people with quirky account names or avatars. Bringing YouTube into the discussion will allow even more self expression and, while Fox News has the ability not to broadcast a video, millions of connected Americans can go watch the videos themselves if they choose. At the moment, the top-rated questions are substantive ones:

  • How do you intend to shift some of the power and influence of large corporations in Washington DC back to the average American and small business owner?
  • Would you support term limits for Congress?
  • As president, would you support the elimination of government agencies or departments as a means to reduce our government’s size and spending? If so, which agencies or departments would you eliminate or substantially downsize?
  • We’ll see if the question about marijuana legalization that has so frequently bubbled up to the top of Moderator instances for the president ends up in this one.

    Designing digital democracy is hard. The structures and conventions that have evolved for deliberative democracy, as messy as it can be offline, don’t transfer perfectly into machine code. Many different companies, civic entrepreneurs, nonprofits and public servants are working to create better online forums for discussion that make better use of technology. Last week, ASU journalism professor and author Dan Gillmor commented in the Guardian that is was past time for “presidential primary debate 2.0, where the Internet would a much bigger role in the structure, format and substance of these events. As Gillmor observes, “truly using the web would mean creating a much more ambitious project.”

    Imagine, for example, a debate that unfolds online over the course of days, or even weeks and months. While they’d include audio, video and other media, these debates would necessarily exist, for the most part, in the more traditional form of text, which is still by far the best for exploring serious issues in serious ways. Questions would be posed by candidates to each other, as well as by journalists and the public. But an answer would not be the end of that round; in fact, it would only be the beginning.

    We’re not there yet. In less than two weeks, however, we’ll see if the hybrid Fox News-Google Moderator approach comes any closer to bringing the Internet into the debate in any sort of meaningful way than it has in the past.

    You can learn more about how Google Moderator is being used for civic discourse in this article on #AskObama on YouTube.

Platforms for citizensourcing emerge in Egypt


As people watching the impact of social media in the events in Egypt know, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube played a role. Today, Microsoft’s director of public sector engagement, Mark Drapeau, sent word that the Redmond-based software company’s open source ideation platform, Town Hall, has been deployed at nebnymasr.org to collect ideas.

The highest profile implementation of Town Hall to date was for crowdsourcing ideas in Congress for the incoming Republican majority in Congress at “America Speaking Out.

This Town Hall instance and others show how citizensourcing platforms can be tailored to channel feedback around specific topics, as opposed to less structured platforms. As governments and citizens try to catalyze civic engagement using the Internet, creating better architectures for citizen participation will be critical. Clay Shirky’s talk about the Internet, citizenship and lessons for government agencies at the Personal Democracy Forum offered some insight on that count. Using taxonomies to aggregate ideas instead of a single list was a key takeaway.

To date, the Egyptian citizensourcing site has logged a few dozen questions and votes. Whether usage of the site will grow more or not is up for debate. The network effect may working against it. As ReadWriteWeb reported last week, Egyptians are using Google Moderator to brainstorm Egypt’s future. Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who played a role in Egypt’s recent revolution, started a Google Moderator page for Egypt entitled, “Egypt 2.0, what does we need? What are our dreams?!.” To date, the Moderator instance has logged 1,361,694 votes for more than 50,000 of the ideas submitted by nearly 40,000 users.