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An ad hoc story of America emerges from online posts to Change.gov

Portrait of the nation comes from comments compiled in a single doc

December 12, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- More than 3,500 comments posted at President-elect Barack Obama's Change.gov Web site have been merged into a single document, creating a downloadable portrait of a nation in crisis that runs for more than 700 pages and nearly 500,000 words.

In merging the 3,572 comments, the Obama transition team has also utterly transformed them into something other than a series of disparate blog and e-mailed comments. They are now part of a searchable, portable and singular narrative that is, in many respects, an ad hoc story of America at this moment. It is, in sum, a collection of stories from a diverse group, written with emotion and passion by people -- everyone from young adults worried about paying for college to young families worried about their children's future, to people in their 50s afraid they are now too old to hire.

Many of the writers tell of hardship and fears, and some of the stories recount -- in sometimes imperfect grammar -- woes almost unimaginable:

I was informed of my lay off on the Monday I walked in the door. Two days later, my mother notifies me of her having breast cancer. My father might be losing his job (he's works as a mechanic, 70 yrs old) this of course after he just went back to work last year after having a quadruple bypass. My cousin (40 yrs old) has cancer and the doctor gave her 6 months to a year to live.... But we are all hanging in there....

The collection was posted last night on the Change.gov blog. The material largely comes from an earlier blog post, "How is the current economic crisis affecting you?"

For the most part, the writers are anonymous, known only by their online names. And the way the document has been assembled makes it hard to easily associate a user's name with his comment. But their import comes from the total collection, the individual stories, ideas and suggestions. The comments are, for the most part, a far cry from the polished letters offered by lobbyists and special interests about regulatory changes and legislation that typically fill Washington's in-box.

The writers offered up tales that are often poignant, many seemingly heartfelt, with sprinkles of wry humor about current problems. And without the increasingly Web 2.0 nature of the Internet, they are stories that would almost certainly never be heard on a large scale:

My big thing is health insurance, I am unable to get it because of my age and medication that I am on, I am "uninsurable," but for 9.50 a month I can get my pet insurance, no questions asked, think something is off here? I tried but the pet company would not insure me.



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