Open for Questions is

In Thursday's IT Blogwatch, we read while we wait to watch Obama answer questions from around the Interwebs. Not to mention never gonna give you up ...

Sharon Gaudin has the details (and some video)

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 [today].

And they're taking the input through a new feature, called Open for Questions, that's on the 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.

Mark Everett Hall wonders if this takes democracy too far:

Can you imagine George Washington, John Adams or even Thomas Jefferson permitting the effrontery of just any Tom, Dick or Harry demanding that their pet peeve get put before the American people for a vote? Can you imagine George Bush allowing it? Me neither.

Well, that's just what President Obama has done with the White House Open for Questions service that let's you or me or anyone submit a question so that everyone else can vote on it.

David Schraub thinks not:

I do firmly believe that American politicians should face determined inquiry from American citizens of all stripes and persuasions. That isn’t to say I think Obama (or Bush for that matter) has an obligation to grapple with professional bomb-throwers or people who are (to be blunt) morons. But the basic idea, I think, is something pleasantly democratic and worth trumpeting.

Dan Tynan is afraid of being lost in the crowd

Of course, getting your question answered isn't exactly a cakewalk. You submit a text question or a link to a video question, and everyone else votes on it. As I write this, more than 19,000 people have submitted roughly 22,000 questions on 11 topics, casting some 722,000 votes along the way.


But Open for Questions seems like a good way to be inclusive without being gimmicky. Whether the public can ask better questions than the press - or at least, elicit better answers from the president - remains to be seen.

Staphanie Condon can help you register:

After visitors set up an account on by submitting their name, e-mail address, zip code, and choosing a password, they can submit or review questions in a number of different categories related to the economy: jobs, health care reform, education, home ownership, veterans, auto industry, financial stability, green jobs and energy, retirement security, small business, and budget.

The terms of participation notify users that the tool is hosted by Google but that owns and has access to the data related to the questions and voting, which will be treated in accordance with the privacy policy. It also says Google never receives the e-mail addresses submitted and does not store the IP addresses related to the tool.

Kara Swisher has seen something like this before:

The site has held similar online events twice in the transition period, but questions were then answered by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and not Obama.

This time, it will be the President, taking questions picked from those voted most popular.

David Sarno explains the concept to the Web 1.0 world:

Allowing users to vote particular questions up or down is a method employed by social news sites such as Digg, Yahoo Buzz and Reddit, where the most popular stories rise to the top and achieve the most visibility.

Nicholas Thompson gives the site a thumbs up, the trolls a vote down

The first big issue and concern is whether the site will be swarmed with useless questions. The internet is a great tool for harnessing the wisdom of crowds — and also the idiocy of trolls.


Since the "legalize pot" fans are flooding the site, and voting up each other's questions, they are overwhelming the algorithms that determine which questions matter most to users. Click on the category "budget" and all the top questions are about pot. I'm going to do my best to vote them down since, personally, I think what to do about manufacturing in this country is more important.

And finally...

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Buffer overflow:

Other Computerworld bloggers:

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Today's post was compiled by Joyce Carpenter.  Your usual blogwatc her, Richi Jennings, is on vacation. 

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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