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Obama 'Open for Questions' from anyone online

President experiments with letting citizens pose questions for online town hall (see video below)

March 25, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - President Barack Obama and his tech team are experimenting with a new way to let ordinary citizens vote on or even pose questions to be answered at his online town hall meeting about the economy tomorrow.

And they're taking the input through a new feature, called Open for Questions, that's on the WhiteHouse.gov Web site. According to a White House blog post Tuesday evening, Obama will answer some of the most popular questions in the town hall meeting, which will be streamed on the White House Web site.

"This experiment is about encouraging transparency and accountability, so ask the president exactly what it is you want to know -- but let others do the same," the blog noted. "Open for Questions is a new experiment for WhiteHouse.gov, the president's latest effort to open up the White House and give Americans from around the country a direct line to the administration."

Using technology, specifically Web 2.0 technology, to communicate with people is nothing new for Obama.

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, just as the president was being sworn in, WhiteHouse.gov was getting a major overhaul. 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.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said the success of Open for Questions depends on how the administration handles the program. Online users can be a tough bunch, after all, quick to ask tough questions and to demand that those questions be answered.

"This could either be a good move or a blunder. It all depends on the execution," said Olds. "If he uses it to answer a broad range of real questions -- hard questions -- from real people, then it could be a very good thing. However, most political handlers find the prospect of their boss answering real questions off the cuff incredibly frightening. But this is a step in the right direction, and it's where the future of politics is heading."

Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google Inc., noted in a blog post last night that the White House is using its cloud-based applications Google Moderator and App Engine to run Open for Questions.

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President Obama is using the Web to solicit questions from the public.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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