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November 15, 2008

Obama's YouTube speech raises the question: is there an efficient way to listen to America?

by Josh Bernoff

Obama's march forward with social technology continues. Since we've never had a President-elect go so far with social technology before, there are no standards. So it's hard to know how to react.

For example:

There's a blog on change.gov . . .

. . . but it has no author. And of course, no comments.

The weekly "radio address" is on YouTube (and on the change.gov blog) and has over 300,000 views on its first day . . .

. . . but of course it has comments disabled, as well.

As we suggested, some of the "vision" ideas people have suggested are now visible on change.gov . . .

. . . but the other 99% are hidden.

We're pleased to see that Brian Solis at TechCrunch extending our idea of moving the President into the social world where he can hear from the people (he calls for Obama to become a "Two-way President").

This isn't at the top of Obama's list of priorities. Fixing the economy is. But you just have to wonder what it could do for a government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people, to actually listen to the people.

The problem is a scale problem. How do you deal with 10,000 suggestions? How do you learn from them? How do you manage them?

Step one: Hire a community manager of the United States. Jake McKee has already applied for the job.

Step two: Develop ways for the community to mostly manage itself, as Wikipedia does. Luckily, there are no shortage of social media experts ready to set that up. As all communities scale up, these problems solve themselves. But in this case, given the speed with which the community will grow and the contentiousness of politics, it will be a little trickier. (Jake, are you sure you want this job?)

Step three: Find ways to derive real insight from all the commentary. And here, we have solutions. Brand monitoring companies like Cymfony, MotiveQuest (which called the election), and Umbria should be doing this now and vying to offer their solutions to the Obama administration. Networked Insights mines ideas from community commentary -- this opportunity is ready made for them.

We'd also like to see some communities from Communispace or Passenger set up for a more civil, more responsive way to gather  intelligence. Give me 500 moms, 500 small business people, 500 republicans, and 500 millenials. When you need to know which way the world is going, ask 'em. Cheaper and better than polls.

The only part I worry about is this: is the social technology vendor community ready to become government contractors? Save a little staff for your corporate clients, ok?

To end this, just because I can, I'm going to put the president-elect's speech right here. Next I'm looking forward to the Obama Widget.


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The government has been listening to the people since its inception. It's called elections. You make it sound like there's a been a handful of people locked in a room making the decisions for everyone. That just isn't the case.

Every 2 years we have some sort of election. That is your opportunity to tell people in the most tangible way possible, what you want. And in between elections there are numerous ways for you to be heard without any cool Web 2.0 approaches. Snail, mail, telephone, visits to your elected official, special interest groups...

Josh Bernoff

Adam, I want more immediate responsiveness than an election every two or (for president) four years. And I think I'm not alone in this.

Ari Herzog

No, Josh, you're not alone. I'm with you every step of the way -- and sometimes five steps ahead!

David Rabjohns, Founder, MotiveQuest

Hi Josh, good point. We have already reached out to Obama and his Pollster. They were a little busy after the election but hopefully something will come of it.



Tom O'Brien

Hi Josh:

Excellent points all - BTW, do you know that @Obama stopped twittering on Nov 5?

Gotta stay in the conversation once you start it. Unless it really was just a campaign.


tim schigel

Isn't the idea of representative government that our congressional reps are supposed to be doing the listening? It seems to me that Obama's not the only one that needs to listen.

Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

I was concerned almost as soon as the site launched -- see "What's the matter with .GOV?" ( http://gaggle.info/post/109/whats-the-matter-with-gov )

Matt Foley - PluggedIN Co.

Great points here, although I think you'd need more than a few community managers to handle the scale of the feedback that could come through a public community...

We're working on your "civil, more responsive way to gather intelligence" here at PluggedIN Co with our newly launched PluggedIN Nation omnibus research community. The goal is to evaluate what is happening across the range of audiences you mentioned (moms, small biz, etc...). It's mostly for corporate clients, but has a ton of potential in the government sector.

In our opinion, it's all about stepping in and managing the feedback in a more "controlled" manner. Relying on communities to manage themselves doesn't always work.

Steve Ressler

Good post. Many of us already in the federal gov't community are excited to see the use of the new collaborative technologies. We are ready to move from just web managers to community managers.

Personally, I founded GovLoop.com, a community of over 2,600 gov't innovators across fed, state, local gov't. There are lots of great ideas on the site about how the Obama administration can improve government.

Andy Nash

Maybe we need to develop a social network independent of the official government (and political parties!) that citizens could use to provide the type of input and help you are talking about. Clearly the government needs help, but it might be impossible for Washington to get an effective program going very quickly. So, let's do it ourselves ... isn't that part of what the groundswell is all about?

Kiesha Cochrane

There are some great points here. Especially in regards to the shear scale of managing input from an entire nation!

I think it's great the he is using social media to connect with the country, and if you really sit and think about it he is at the forefront as far as politicians using social media to campaign and ultimately relay messages.

It will be interesting to see what he does once inauguration day comes around...

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