Obama-Biden: Open Government, Now Open For Questions

It’s something that I have been anxiously waiting for to happen ever since I first got involved with socially driven sites – and began to understand their true power – and it has finally become a reality. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Obama’s change.gov site had introduced a mechanism for suggesting questions and voting on those suggested by others in a system similar to the one used by many social news sites to determine the relative importance of all stories submitted by community members. The system runs on Google’s Moderator platform, which allows a group of people to ask questions (or make suggestions) and list them in order of importance. Practically this works just as a social news site running on Pligg or SocialWebCMS would function.

The Obama-Biden Transition Team invites all of America to use their ‘Open for Questions‘ feature to ask them any questions regarding the issues that are important to you. Furthermore, you can browse already submitted questions and vote positively or negatively on them (or flag them as inappropriate) to determine overall popularity for the questions. Simply register on the site or log in and you will automatically be redirected to the list of questions in order of vote popularity.

As you vote or skip the top question, it is replaced with the next most popular, and so on, while the sidebar on the left keeps track of how many votes you have cast and the number of questions you have asked. Clicking on either of those shows you more details on that particular option.

Asking a question is just as simple. All you need is to log in, type in your question, location, and a nickname, and press submit.

If you’re thinking that the implementation is rudimentary at best, you’re right, and therein lies the genius. The feature allows you to do only three things: submit questions to the team, vote on questions (or mark them inappropriate), and track your participation on the site. But that all makes sense if you keep in mind that the site isn’t built just for the tech elite (the Mashable audience) that would want a plethora of more social networking, filtering, and recommendation features, and has to cater to the average American who is significantly less technologically adept or web-savvy.

As such, the site is simple, doesn’t stray away from a small core focus, and does the job well, not to mention is quite popular already. Almost 6,000 people have joined as of this writing, asking approximately 4,000 questions and casting 320,000 votes. And all this has been accomplished in under 12 hours.

There are some clarifications to be made, however, and some concerns regarding the implementation. First of all, it’s not exactly clear how many of these questions will be addressed, by whom, when, and on what basis (i.e. votes are important but how about categories – by foreign policy, national policy, economy, etc.). Furthermore, one problem that plagues all such sites is heavy vote manipulation and audience homogeneity. How does the team plan on making sure that a diverse group of people are asking questions in a diverse number of topics, that accurately represent the concerns of the average American? The site could very easily become infested with most popular questions from the liberal-tech-elite audience, overshadowing other smaller but important groups.

That said, bravo to the Obama-Biden Transition Team for making what is certainly a bold move in the right direction. Now we just have to hope that this change is permanent and that they will follow through with the promise of open and transparent government.

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