This afternoon, I gave a talk on open data journalism at the Developing the Caribbean Conference at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Jamaica. The diGJamaica liveblog captured the discussion. Video may be available later. For now, my presentation is embedded below, with many links inside of it.
Category Archives: government 2.0
At noon today, I’m going to be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, DC’s local NPR station, to talk about the power of online petitions.
What do you think of them, in general? Have you signed one or more? Why? What outcomes have petitions created at Avaaz or Change.org had? What about White House e-petitions? What about e-petitions in the UK or in other countries? If you have comments on these questions or relevant research, please let me know in the comments or email me at alex [at] oreilly.com.
On one of those counts, I’ve linked up some relevant reading below on the White House e-petitions platform, “We The People,” which has been getting much more mainstream media attention in recent months. (The response to an e-petition to build a Death Star, at least, was epic.)
1. Jim Snider, White House’s ‘We The People’ Petitions Find Mixed Success, NPR’s All Things Considered, January 3, 2013.
2. Micah Sifry: How We The People could help form a more perfect union, TechPresident, 2012
3. Jim Snider: The White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card, Huffington Post, September 23, 2012.
4. Jim Snider: The Case of the Missing White House Petitions, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011.
5. Nick Judd: Is the White House doing enough for We The People?, TechPresident, November 2, 2011.
6. Jim Snider: What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?, Huffington Post, October 20, 2011
7. Jim Snider: The White House’s New We the People Petition Website, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011
8. Alex Howard: White House launches e-petitions, National Journal, September 10, 2011
The official response from The White House to the epetition to create a Death Star is, in Internet terms, epic.
By turns geeky, funny, informative about U.S. space programs, and unabashedly supportive of science and technology education, the response to a popular petition on the “We The People” e-petition platform instantly entered the annals of online government history this Friday night.
“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“Here are a few reasons:
- The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
- The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
- Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”
However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser– roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.
Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.
Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.
We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.
We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget
When White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips replied to a tweeted question about an outstanding petition on open access, he proved his Star Wars bonafides with a echo of Yoda’s unusual grammar.
This Star Wars fan is glad to have hilarity to share on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on the power of online epetitions on WAMU next Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Noel Dickover, Carving the Death Star Pumpkin
The White House joined Pinterest today. Over the past several years, the White House digital team has sought to leverage the growing unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be pinning as well as tweeting, blogging, liking and plussing.
As has often been the case over the past four years, I learned about the news first on Twitter, directly from a tweet by White House Digital Director Macon Phillips:
— Macon Phillips (EOP) (@macon44) December 8, 2012
The White House was able to secure the /whitehouse namespace* and began pinning at pinterest.com/whitehouse.
The decision by the White House to join Pinterest comes as the photo sharing website enjoys a period of hypergrowth in 2012 that resulted in a ranking amongst the most popular social media platforms in the United States. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, Pinterest grew by over 1,000% over in the United States in 2012, with even high year over year growth in unique mobile Web (4,225%) and mobile app (1,698%) users. Given that the White House has an official presence on every other major social media platform, the move recognizes a new reality: Pinterest is now among the top five social destinations in the country, and therefore worth investing time and resources for staff to engage there.
The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:
- Facebook: The White House
- MySpace: The White House
- Google+: The White House
- Twitter: The White House
- LinkedIn: The White House Group
- YouTube: The White House Channel
- Vimeo: The White House
- Flickr: The White House’s photostream
- iTunes: White House Podcasts
- Foursquare: The White House
- Socrata: whitehouse
- SlideShare: White House
- Storify: The White House
- Digg: The White House
- Github: White House
Kori Schulman, the director of online engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy in the White House, blogged about the White House joining Pinterest at the WhiteHouse.gov blog. (Sam Byford was quite dubious about that “open” frame in his post at The Verge.)
Schulman described the White House’s new Pinterest account as another way to open up the White House to more people:
From the very beginning, President Obama and the First Lady have taken steps to make this the most open White House in history. “It’s the “People’s House,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.”
That’s why the White House is open for virtual tours 24/7 through the Google Art Project and why you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other places around the web. And, it’s why we’re now thrilled to add Pinterest to the list.
The holidays are an especially exciting time for the White House to start pinning. During the 2012 holiday season alone, more than 90,000 visitors will have the chance to tour the White House holiday decorations, all hung with care by a team of crafty staff and volunteers. To kick off our presence on Pinterest, we’re inviting some of our newest followers to join us for a Holiday Social at the White House. Pinners will be invited to check out the décor, meet with the people that helped transform the White House for the holidays, join us for a craft project — and share it all with the Pinterest community.
According to Schulman, the White House will roll out its first pinboards on December 17th, the day of its first “White House Holiday Social,” a new, more general term for an in-person meeting between White House staff and people who follow its official accounts on social media platforms.
The White House has held a series of “tweetups” for Twitter users over the past year, starting with the first Twitter Town Hall. (I went to the second White House tweetup, which coincided with an in-person town hall with President Obama at the University of Maryland, where he told students that he was “absolutely convinced that your generation will help us solve these problems.”
The new approach to a “White House Social” will be more broadly applicable to future meetups, assuming that a second Obama administration continues to value creating bridges between offline and online networks of supporters.
The last descriptor is key: the White House has been experimenting on the Internet, generally — and with social media, specifically — to share the images, media and ideas that the administration wants to promulgate to the country, from proposed policies to political action. White House staff, including communications director Dan Pfieffer, have gone on the record to say that they believe social media campaigns have affected the debt ceiling debate and led to offline outcomes.
The White House’s most recent effort at public engagement through social media, in which the administration encouraged Americans to share what $2,000 dollars meant to them, resulted in 100,000 submissions at WhiteHouse.gov and 250,000 tweets that used the #My2K hashtag. That conversation was catalyzed this past week when President Obama logged on to Twitter himself again for a presidential Q&A in which he urged Americans to call, email and tweet to Congress regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.
As I’ve written before, however, real issues with meaningful use of social media by Congress persist, including an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality, when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual email or phone calls from constituents remain far more influential with Congressional staffers than tweets. The probability that pins will prove to be any more significant in political debates remains to be seen.
The White House won’t be politically pinning alone on Pinterest. While Massachusetts Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stayed off of Pinterest because of worries that copyright infringement claims could lead the social sharing site to be shut down, a growing number of political campaigns and government entities have joined the platform over the last six months.
Why? Pinterest represents not just a new horizon for White House digital efforts but one in which a specific interest group — women — can be found in engaged numbers that they are not elsewhere. Pinterest is strongly identified with women, with Pew Internet research back in February 2012 finding that 1 in 5 women on the Internet are on the social sharing service.
Whether the White House’s pins resonate will also depend upon whether politics, Pinterest and political media become more intertwined. To date, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been the primary online forums for digital politics. In 2013, pinning may take on new significance.
*The White House digital team initially could be found as WhiteHouse44, not /WhiteHouse. At some point in December, they were able to secure the standard namespace. The first White House board was “inspiring.”
I sat down for an interview with the “Don’t Worry About The Government” folks earlier today to talk about government as a platform, open data and more. (Bonus: I’m still sporting my summer beard from Maine.)
The interview request was triggered by my post on whether government innovation can rise above partisan politics. In an ideal world — which we of course do not live in — this presidential election would focus more upon what role government should or should play in our society, at the city, state and federal level, and whether and how we the people should finance it.
Over the last century in the United States, the size of the federal government has grown immensely, from entitlement programs (Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security) to the immense defense budget. Technology provides new opportunities to both save taxpayers dollars and detect and prevent corruption and fraud, but the larger question of the role government itself should play in society is one that should occupy more of the national conversation, frankly, than Representatives skinny dipping on foreign trips, campaign trail gaffes or the latest celebrity foibles.
Anyone with a smartphone can now do reporting: share geolocated photos, video or stream what’s happening. I’m here, you’re not, here’s what I see. Does such “citizen reporting” rise to an “act of journalism” and need to protected under the First Amendment? Increasingly, I tend to think that it does — and that’s going to be key question in the not-so-distant future, if Congress gets around to re-examining shield laws. Shield laws have been an issue for years, in the context of how the digital media ecosystem has democratized the means of publication, particularly of reporting images and video.
Currently, federal shield laws don’t protect sources and methods. Last year’s ruling in Oregon cemented the reality that 20th century shield laws lag today’s social media reality, even if the blogger in question turns out to have gone far beyond where many of the people initially defending her realized. A subsequent clarification showed that the judge who made the ruling believes bloggers can be journalists.
Honestly, some days I find the gatekeeping and credentialism I still see and hear disquieting. Since my degree is in biology and sociology, not “journalism,” should I get kicked out of the profession? Without getting testy, this attitude is exactly what will allow governments to arrest people livestreaming because they aren’t “members of the media.” (I also think it’s why there are still tables for “print only” in Congressional hearing rooms and 20th century rules for hard press passes for broadcast, radio or print journalists in the Senate and restrictions on the use of computers in some House subcommittees.)
Who gets to decide if someone is a journalist? Is someone who works at the Daily Enquirer who posts pictures of a naked celebrity a journalist — but someone who posts pictures of a cop beating a student is not? What about a columnist who writes about the Greatest Athlete EVER versus a blogger who chronicles how well documented city council hearings are and issues with the document format or codec type from the software vendor? The odds are good that it will be U.S. Senators and judges who make that call: it’s important to think carefully about which side you come down upon and why.
This stuff is ALL really blurry. Is Twitter journalism or isn’t it?. What about tweets? Blog posts? Video?
Remember, there are companies who have tried to criminalize linking or embedding. There also folks out there in media land who have say linking is unfair aggregation. Both could be an issue for what some practitioners have called social journalism.
We need to be careful about being quick to exclude or defend turf in a historic moment when the practice of journalism has become more open to all then ever before, particularly when press freedom continues to be under pressure globally and whistleblowers are being prosecuted domestically. The bloggers vs journalists debate has significant potential downstream impact that matters, even as it morphs into “curators vs journalists.”
Honestly, I’m starting to think that the term “curators” should have been left in museums, where it was quite clear what they did. How about “editors vs curators?” Fuzzier, right?
Hey, I love it when people link and share my work, personally. I hate it when they plagiarize, don’t link or attribute it. Curate me, please!
Personally, if someone produces work that is fair, accurate, adds necessary context and based on the available evidence, I’m generally happy to call it journalism, regardless of whether the author is on a masthead somewhere or has the right B.S. on a sheepskin.
This post has been updated with links and commentary.
[Editor's note: these are live, rough notes from my iPad, and should not in any way represent a 100% accurate transcription. I missed far too much. Caveat lector. My comments are in brackets. You can find Dr. @Atul_Gawande's bio & writing at the New Yorker. Update: I've posted video of Dr. Gawande below.]
GAWANDE: A fascinating part [of the Health Data Palooza]: the idea that we’re putting together people from government, healthcare systems, people from outside who have knowledge about data and tools. This is quite different from the normal models: regulatory or laissez faire.
We have a healthcare system that’s fundamentally broken. The most common complaints from patients seem to be no one you can count on. If you’re paying, you have no sense that there is anyone who can help it costs be under control.
Where to start to fix that? We have recognized that there is enormous variation in cost, depending on whet you go. There is enormous variation in cost, depending on where you go. The two don’t have anything to do with one another. So there’s hope. [Good news.]
Some of the best places to get care are the least expensive. [In healthcare,] positive deviants are the ones that look the most like systems.
Examples from war and lessons within lethality
GAWANDE: Start by looking at performance of doctors in war and their teams. In the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, lethality below 10%. That doesn’t reflect intensity of conflict but improvement in care.
How did we do it? It was the not discovery of new tech that transformed survival but ability to use existing tech far better, in a system that works.
1) Kevlar. Got soldiers to wear it, operationally.
2) Speed to operating table. Improved forward mobile operating theaters.
We achieved the best survival rates in history. How? They changed the way they did surgery. Looked at data, realized needed to stop bleeding, stop contamination, under resource restrictive conditions. No X-rays, needed to learn 19th century techniques for finding fractures by feel.
They adopted “damage control surgery”: Do what you could during 2 hours. Ship and add a note: here’s what I’d did, what’s needed. That helped stimulate development of simple EHR. Average time from wounded on the battlefield, to getting care in the field, Baghdad, in Germany, in us, is less than 3 days. Less than 36 hours for some.
Soldiers can find better care for some conditions in Iraq than in a US city, with fewer resources. How? Alignment of finances, incentives. They weren’t “fee for service soldiers.” Everyone is on the same team: focused on saving life, maintaining health.
Within 48 hours of the wounding or death of soldier, posted on the DoD website. [DCAS: Defense Casualty Analysis System] The public accesses that data, but doctors & nurses access it the most.
One more example: soldiers not wearing protective eyewear. They called them ‘Granny goggles.’ The DoD contracted with a designer, made cool ones. Now wearing. Needed data and research to understand. [Stories matter.]
Affordable Care Organizations (ACOs) have done financial alignment. They’re committing to doing more project at a time. They’re committed to better health within an environment.
To get there, folks in war needed data useful to frontline decision makers. [The same is true at home.]
5 Social Media Week DC 2012 Panels: Conversations, Politics, Technology, Public Diplomacy and eDemocracy
Social Media Week DC is going to be a busy conference for me this year. If you haven’t heard about it yet, the week-long festival starts 12 days from now. The week will feature speakers, panels, workshops, events, and parties all across the District celebrating tech and social media in the Nation’s Capital, including a special edition of the DC Tech Meetup. I’m going to be moderating four panels and participating on a fifth. I’m excited about all five and I hope that readers, friends, colleagues and the DC community comes to one or more of them.
If the panels that I’m involved in aren’t your cup of tea, you might find something more to your taste in the full SMW DC schedule.
Following is the breakdown of the five panels that I’ll be participating in this year:
- Creating & Managing High Quality Online Conversations
Location: Science Club
Date: Monday, February 13 at 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM | Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
Description: Discussions in online comment sections and social media can be tricky to manage. Some sites are bogged down full of low quality comments, spam, and more. How do we create high quality online discussions? How do we filter out the noise – the spam, the solicitation, harassment, and hateful speech that often becomes part of any online discussion? We will discuss examples of those that have done it well, and some that haven’t. We will also speak to individuals who have dealt with harassment and negativity online and learn how they fought back and still used social media tools for constructive discussion and engagement.
- Politics and technology: the media’s role in the changing landscape: ASK QUESTIONS
Location: Powell Tate
Date: Tuesday, February 14 at 10:00 AM | Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
Description: Digital platforms have changed the media landscape forever, but how has it changed the way the media covers politics? We’ll ask a panel of reporters from Gannett, National Journal, ABC News and Politico as they discuss 2012 election coverage.
- Social Politics: How Technology Has Helped Campaigns: ASK QUESTIONS
Location: Powell Tate
Date: Tuesday, February 14 at 2:00 PM | Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
Description: The social media landscape has changed drastically since 2008. We’ll hear directly from panelists from Google, Twitter and Facebook as they delve into the tools and innovations that candidates and campaigns have utilized as the 2012 campaign heats up.
- Public Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media
Location: New America Foundation
Date: Thursday, February 16 at 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM | Add to Google Calendar| Add to iCal
Description: How does social media change how statecraft is practiced in the 21st century? Who’s participating and why? What have been some lessons learned from the pioneers who have logged on to listen and engage? Three representatives from the U.S. Department of State will share case studies and professional experiences gleaned directly from the virtual trenches.
- Social Media, Government and 21st Century eDemocracy
Location: The U.S. National Archives
Date: Friday, February 17 at 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM | Add to Calendar | Add to iCal
Description: While Sean Parker may predict that social media will determine the outcome of the 2012 election, governance is another story entirely. Meaningful use of social media by Congress remains challenged by a number of factors, not least an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality remains that when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual emails or phone calls are far more influential with congressional staffers.“People think it’s always an argument in Washington,” said Matt Lira, Director of Digital for the House Majority Leader. “Social media can change that. We’re seeing a decentralization of audiences that is built around their interests rather than the interests of editors. Imagine when you start streaming every hearing and making information more digestible. All of a sudden, you get these niche audiences. They’re not enough to sustain a network, but you’ll get enough of an audience to sustain the topic. I believe we will have a more engaged citizenry as a result.”
This conversation with Lira (and other special guests, as scheduling allows) will explore more than how social media is changing politics in Washington. We’ll look at its potential to can help elected officials and other public servants make better policy decisions.
If you’re not in DC, check to see if there is a Social Media Week event near you: in 2012, the conference now include New York, San Francisco, Miami, Toronto, London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sao Paulo.
Today, more than a quarter of a million people* watched the first Presidential Google Hangout with President +Barack Obama from +The White House. The archived video, below, comes courtesy of Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa, whose shared his review of President Obama’s first Hangout at Reuters.com. For the best reporting I’ve seen on the participants and questions, read Sarah Lai Stirland on President Obama’s Hangout.
My immediate takeaway? The forum featured real questions on significant issues, with genuine citizen-president interactions, with back and forth conversation. That was precisely the promise of the platform that I considered ahead of time, when I asked whether a Google+ Hangout could bring the president closer to the citizens he serves.
Earlier in the afternoon, I joined Google’s Daniel Sieberg on our own Google+ Hangout to talk about the potential impact that online video, hangouts, and live broadcasts between citizens and their elected officials could have on the political landscape.
The moderator, Google’s Steve Grove, gave the participants (2 men, 2 women and one classroom of young people) the opportunity to follow up on their questions to the president. There will be much more analysis of the questions asked and the president’s answers tonight, as there should be.
Here’s a quick recap, distilled from my notes: The forum began with a video question to the president about promoting a living wage for students working their way through college. The second question came from the Hangout, on why the White House
doesn’t expand expanded H1B visas for foreign workers at the expense of skilled labor with the U.S. President Obama told the wife of a semiconductor engineer (who asked the latter question and, critically, got to follow up in the Hangout) if she sent him her husband’s resume, he’d be happy to find what’s happening.
One could dismiss it as pandering — or celebrate it as a citizen cutting through the morass of bureaucracy to tell the nation’s chief executive that the system wasn’t working as he said it should. Such followups in the Hangout are what made this different than the past YouTube and White House interviewed. Politico talked to Jennifer Wedel, of Forth Worth, Texas, who asked the question during the presidential Hangout:
“I’ll have to take you up on that,” Wedel said of the president’s offer to help her husband, Darin, who lost his job at Texas Instruments three years ago.
Later, Wedel told POLITICO that she and the president had a “pretty crazy interaction” that she hadn’t expected when she asked about the federal government granting H-1B visas to skilled foreign workers while U.S. citizens such as her husband are out of work.
“I don’t think he was trying to be condescending or anything,” said Wedel, who never completed college and was a stay-at-home mom before her husband was laid off, but now has a full-time job at State Farm to help make ends meet. “I just think I stumped him a little and he wanted me to hush about it.”
“I think he knows pretty well that the H-1B is an issue because — it’s kind of like the Occupy movement — big corporations are putting up the money to get the visas” and choosing lower-paid foreign workers over domestic ones, Wedel said. “I don’t think what he was telling me was true, and I think he knew it, and that’s why he offered to take my husband’s resume,” she said, adding that her husband has kept it updated.
Another question from YouTube featured a video taken from an #Occupy protester in Portland. A question taken from within the White House Hangout asked about the president’s plans to help small business and to restructure government, which the Washington Post covered this month.
Another question posed within the Hangout about a lack of dialogue with children about the financial crisis offered the president a human moment, where he said that he tries to explain what’s happened with economy to his daughters over the dinner table.
There were incontrovertibly tough questions asked tonight, including one from a homeless veteran who asked why the U.S. is sending money to Pakistan and places that are known to give money to terrorism. In answer, the president said that the U.S. only spends 1% of its budget on foreign aid, and that it pays off in a lot of ways as part of the country’s national security strategy. What we don’t want is countries to collapse, have to send in our guys at huge potential risk and cost to taxpayers, he said.
The President was asked a video question from YouTube that cited a New York Times story on the use of drones in Iraq, which the president called “overwritten. The drones have not caused an unusual number of civilian casualties, he said, stating that it was a targeted focused effort aimed at Al Queda, not for other purposes.
I was personally glad to see that Grove asked a question on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), noting that both were hot within the YouTube community. Needless to say, that part of the transcript will be carefully analyzed by the people whose collective online action changed Washington.
We need to use tools we have, he said, noting recent takedown action by the Justice Department. At the same time, when SOPA came up on the hill, said the President, “we expressed some concerns about the way the legislation had been written.” Now, he said, the content and server sides need to come together for strong IP protections that preserve basic architecture of the Internet.
While the top-rated question was asked, concerning the extradition of a British national, there were no questions posted about legalizing marijuana, which once again rose to the top of CitizenTube (perhaps Grove and his colleagues at YouTube felt it had been asked enough?) nor any question was asked about the National Defense Reauthorization Act, which many other users on YouTube wanted to see addressed.
UPDATE: When I followed up with Grove on Google+ about the process behind the questions, he made the following comment:
We chose the questions from among the top-voted questions on YouTube… it’s always a fun challenge to ensure you get a broad range of issues and perspectives into these discussions from amongst the top-voted questions, but I hope people feel that we did a good job of listening to community votes. We asked several of the top-voted questions, including the #1 voted question on YouTube. Some people asked why we didn’t ask about marijuana legalization… as an FYI, we asked the President about it last year (see here: Drug Policy – President Obama’s YouTube Interview 2011).
As far as the hangout participants, we also selected them based off of the questions they had submitted to YouTube — again looking for a range of Americans… that part had to happen a little earlier during the submission process, so we could prepare for the Hangout today.
Overall, I can honestly say that we saw something new in the intersection of government, technology and society. From where I sat, plugged in within the Sunlight Foundation, it felt like a good thing, not just for the White House or the president’s campaign or Google (although all certainly benefitted) but for the promise of the Internet to more directly connect public officials to those that they serve, with all of their real problems, concerns, doubts and fears.
At the end of the event, there was a moment of unexpected human connection, when one of the women on the hangout invited her three children to come meet the president.
They stared and smiled, left a bit wide eyed by the President of the United States smiling out of the computer screen and bidding them to obey their mother and do their homework. We could do with more wonder in the world, where such unexpected encounters occur online.
Viewership estimate via Google’s Steve Grove, who said at the end of the netcast that a quarter of a million people were watching on YouTube. Given the White House’s own livestream, the number could be higher.