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At the time Crank began using IdeaScale, his campaign, as part of his platform, had launched a plan to cut federal spending by 20 percent over the next 10 years. What Crank wanted was suggestions from Colorado voters on how best to accomplish that task. The Crank team sent e-mails to 6,000 people. Seventy posted responses on his IdeaScale page, which also had a section where voters could ask questions and get responses. The questions and answers were visible to all users.

Political wannabe Sam Young, a 30-year-old Web developer running as an independent for governor of Vermont, created his IdeaScale site, vermontvotes.net, to not only get new votes, but because he particularly wanted to target like-minded Vermont voters in his age demographic for what he calls "peer-to-peer" politics. "You can think of [the site] as an Internet-based focus group," Young says. "My generation is used to interacting with the media and what we want to do with our democracy is have it interact with us and have it respond to us. ... A number of companies are marketing in this way, so why shouldn't we be able to market politics this way?"

But while Young thinks younger Vermont voters will find his use of idea-generation software appealing (especially given that in Vermont roughly everyone under 35 is on Facebook, according to Young), so far the response pales in comparison to his enthusiasm for the tool. He launched his IdeaScale page in July and is quick to admit that it has not "gotten a ton of interest so far." His strong support of "quality, high-speed Internet throughout Vermont," for example, is an issue just 23 users voted to the top.

Young says his decision to include the need for a public transportation system in Vermont as part of his platform came directly from suggestions voters made on his IdeaScale page. "We can collect and pool these ideas in a coherent way so we can get to the heart of what are the most important ideas to focus on first," Young says.

Some say idea-generation software can be risky business for politicians. There are those, for instance, who may not find it politically prudent to suggest they'd make changes based on user input. Political blogger Feldman, for one, thinks politicians are likely to take a cautious approach to such software because questions or issues that a politician doesn't want to deal with could be voted to the top.

"The biggest concern is losing control and being associated politically with that moment when control is lost," says Feldman. "You'll see politicians looking for ways to be involved without it being real close to them. [Netroots] had a lot of enthusiasm from Speaker Pelosi's office, but this was not something that was set up on her Web site. She was distanced from it."

Dan Burton, svp for global public policy at Salesforce.com, says politicians who view this type of tool as another opportunity for constituents to criticize their policies are missing the point. He sees no harm in software that allows constituents to vote on the best suggestions; if politicians don't like the suggestions, he says, they can simply tell their constituents why not. The real danger for politicians, Burton adds, is not responding to their constituents at all.

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