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Session 4: linktank.com & “What will the President do in the first four weeks of office?”

6 March 2008

After a long mingling lunch (I ordered 31 pizzas for the occassion, though myself am not able to eat wheat), I wandered to the Better Research and Advocacy group, which was hosted by DC.Linktank (not yet active), to discuss their upcoming service.

They pitched LinkTank as a centralizartion of institutions, private, public, and government in the DC area. In essence, it is to be an aggregator service for thinktanks and government resources: who’s researching waht, what they are saying, and who to go to to find information.

Besides making it easier to find information, they want to make it easier to people to become involved. They are planning a moderated events-listing platform for institutions, such as lectures, exhibits, rallys, etc, but each event has to be tied to a credible institution or person, as to avoid spam.

Their goal is to make it easy to tap into the people dictating policies, and make the resources of all the research being done, either on taxpayer or donor dollars, easily accessiable to the public.

I admit, I am incredibly excited about this idea, especially now that I live in DC proper, and hope I will be able to take advantage of it before I go back to school. I am also curious as to how they plan to cover costs – they did not mention where their funding was coming from or whether they plan to make their platform open source (I am sure other places besides DC could find this sort of database useful), or if they plan to charge fees to institutions wanting to list events (though that seems to defeat the purpose of spreading the word as much as possible), or charge fees to corporate researchers.

However, eventually I did get distracted, and wandered into another room, where people were discussing “What will the President do in the first four weeks of office”

As I walked in the topic was just changing to what will happen with the White House website once the new president makes it into office. We generally agreed that the website was underutilizing it’s potential and the president-to-be should take advantage of the oppurtunity to overhaul it and make it into an effective means to communicate with the public, by offering regular updates, an e-mail list, and accessiable feedback.

The shining example of a politicians website was Barack Obama’s. It enocouraged public involvement to an incredible extent. His campaign also uses communicatin of the Web 2.0 generation, such as the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter. This led me to immediately send the following twitter: “@BarackObama – will you continue updating your twitter account once/if you get elected?” Haven’t gotten a response, but oh well, I had to ask.

However, a candidate’s goals are very different from that of an elected offical. The candidate needs all the support and involvement s/he can get. His entire “job” as a candidate is to garner support. As an elected offical, his/her job is to carry out the policies and philosophy that he was elected for. S/he needs feedback from their constituents, of course, as the whim of the public change, and you still represent those in the country who did not vote for them. But how do you balance that with everything else that needs to get done? And how effective can two-way communication be? It is easy to get a message from one to the masses, but from the masses to one is a little more complicated, especially if each person in the mass is trying to have an individual conversation.

In the previous session, we talked about how on a local level, it is feasible for elected offical to pay attention to the online going-ons of their constituents. But I skeptical it could work on a national level. Yet it still remains a fantastic opportunity to engage citizens in the political process. So the question remains, what is the most effective balance of communication? I won’t even attempt to venture a guess.

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