10Questions.com: Putting Voters in the Driver's Seat in 2010
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Three years ago, we had a modest idea at Personal Democracy Forum: that the internet could be a vehicle for transforming the presidential debates then underway. Instead of relying solely on journalists to determine the questions being asked of candidates; why not involve the public? Instead of giving the candidates 60 seconds to recite a canned answer, why not offer them unlimited time to prepare a serious response? And instead of letting candidates dodge questions during live debates, why not create a real feedback loop and let the public vote on whether they were satisfied with candidates' answers? Instead of debates tailored for (and constrained by) the demands of broadcast television, why not use the interactive and abundant nature of the internet to try something new and make debates far more participatory, content-rich, and accountable?
From that set of ideas was born 10Questions.com, a cross-partisan interactive platform for voter-candidate engagement that we are pleased to announce has been relaunched for the 2010 elections this August.
Here's how 10Questions got started: Like many people who were swept up by the 2008 campaign, we were struck by the public response to the CNN/YouTube debates. Tens of thousands of video questions were submitted by voters, and even though the rest of those debates were pretty conventional affairs--professional journalists selecting the questions, candidates sparring to score with pre-planned soundbites, everyone hoping for a live gaffe or semi-revealing moment--the mere inclusion of questions from YouTubers had the effect of doubling the ratings for those events.
Inspired by a group of online activists from the YouTube community, led by a high school teacher named David Colarusso, we decided to try a demonstration project. With the help of Colarusso, who had already built an interactive platform called CommunityCounts, we launched 10Questions.com in September of 2007. With a crosspartisan array of media partners, we asked the public to post questions to the presidential candidates, and invited everyone to vote them up or down. Then we invited all the candidates to post their answers, giving them all the time they needed to prepare serious answers. And then, to create a real feedback loop and try to incentivize the candidates to avoid dodging the questions, we invited the public to vote on whether they thought each candidate had actually answered each question.
In 2007, about 125,000 votes were cast on more than 300 questions submitted. The top 10 included questions on net neutrality, atheism, medical marijuana, warrantless wiretapping, corporate personhood, government spending, etc. Edwards, Gravel, Huckabee, Kucinich, and Obama each answered at least one of the top ten. Another 27,000 votes were cast judging their responses. By all accounts, 10Questions was successful in demonstrating that an open and interactive platform for voter-to-candidate-to-voter engagement could work, though in retrospect we believe it could have had a larger impact had we started sooner in the presidential campaign calendar. (You can view an archive of the 2007-08 site here.)
Now, with the support of the Knight Foundation, we've just launched with a retooled version of 10Questions.com designed to allow anyone the ability to ask questions directly of many of the candidates seeking to represent them in the U.S. Congress, U.S. Senate, or as their state's governor.
The way it works is simple: anyone can post a question (video or text), anyone can vote those up or down (one vote per question per IP address), anyone can embed a question, a race, a state, or the entire country via a fully functional widget, on any website they want. To post or vote on a question, you just need a Google Account, as the site is powered by a souped-up version of the Google Moderator question platform (and for which we are grateful to our technology partners Google and YouTube.) No personal user information is being retained, though the site will allow anyone to view where questions and votes are coming from geographically, and to track the daily up-down voting on any question.