Gina Cooper, executive director of Netroots Nation, first contacted IdeaScale earlier that same month. Within a day, a separate url called askthespeaker.org went up online. Netroots asked for questions by sending notices to more than 3,000 members on its mailing list. Also, to engage the public at large, it posted information about the call for questions to sites like DailyKos.com, huffingtonpost.com and Townhall.com.
(In 2007, when the convention featured seven out of the then-eight presidential candidates, all questions were submitted by e-mail. Organizers had considered monitoring blog postings as well, but found it an inefficient way to create queries.)
Users had 10 days to submit queries or vote on the ideas of others. Within three days there were approximately 500 responses. By the end of 10 days, Netroots received a total of 269 specific questions and 527 comments. In the end, Pelosi was asked five of the questions. Three had been voted to the top of the list by users: "Why is impeachment [of George W. Bush] off the table?"; "Why are Karl Rove and others being allowed to ignore subpoenas by House committees?"; and "Would Congress pass a law providing incentives for small donors to give money to political candidates?" Netroots moderators synthesized similar topics into the two remaining questions.
"As opposed to questions being asked by the person closest to the microphone, it provided a more democratic process by having people submit [them] and vote on what they most wanted answers to," says Karina Newton, Pelosi's director of new media. "IdeaScale allowed for a direct and transparent interaction. The questions that were ultimately asked came from the concerns and priorities voted upon by anybody who wanted to take part."
Political blogger Jeffrey Feldman, author of Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation and Win Elections, who helped summarize some of the queries submitted for the event, sees positive and negative aspects to software like IdeaScale. For instance, he says, political organizers with a large e-mail list of, say, 1,000 people can beat the system by voting an issue to the top.
"A well-organized group of people can manipulate a voting system in order to make something appear popular," notes Feldman. "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. It just doesn't mean that issue is on the broad range of minds at that particular moment." One upside, he adds, "is a very immediate feedback that bloggers love."
Crank, the former Republican primary challenger for Colorado's 5th Congressional District, began using IdeaScale in June after learning about it from his PR firm's Web-development team. (When Crank lost the Republican primary election in August, the page was taken down.) His former deputy campaign manager, Amber Glus, says IdeaScale was "an easy and cost-effective way to put ideas out there for the public to comment on. ... The ideas really shaped our race."
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