Two days after members of the White House press corps asked President Barack Obama questions about the state of the union, more than 90,000 citizens from across the country had the chance to do the same thing today.
In an online town hall meeting that started late this morning and wrapped up just before 1 p.m. Eastern, Obama took questions from an audience in the White House and from online participants who had posed questions on the WhiteHouse.gov Web site.
White House officials said the Web site's Open for Questions portal, launched earlier this week, attracted some 92,928 users who submitted 104,111 questions and cast 3,606,658 votes for queries they wanted answered.
"Given the size of the electorate, that's not a huge number, but since it's the first time they've done this, you have to judge it in that context," said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "It's a step in the right direction to getting more people engaged in the process."
Olds also said that using Web 2.0 tools is a way for a new generation of political leaders to reach out to an increasingly connected and technically savvy audience.
"Right now, we have a crisis in confidence in this country," he added. "How you fix that, as a leader, is through communication. Sure, you could do that on TV and radio but look at all the people using Web 2.0. You have to use every medium you can and there's a big audience out there online."
In his opening remarks in today's town hall meeting, Obama called this new online effort an "experiment." The first question that he took was one of the most popular submitted by the online audience. "How do you plan to restore education as a right and core cultural value in America?" asked a participant from Boston. The president said the country needs to focus on investing in teachers, improving science curricula and reforming education policies.
During his campaign for president, Obama seemingly showed other politicians what it means to harness the power of the Web. The then-senator went beyond the somewhat static Web pages of most past campaigns and tapped the power of Web 2.0 tools, including Facebook, YouTube, blogs and discussion boards, to create a conversation with potential voters.
And on inauguration day, a major overhaul of WhiteHouse.gov was launched as the president was being sworn in. At noon that day, the president's official Web site appeared online with a new design that focused not just on the new administration but on new media. For example, it has a feature called "The Briefing Room," where users can go to read the latest White House blog posts and even sign up for e-mail news updates.