Thursday New Tools Feature: "Open for Questions" Now Open for Business

Back in October, I discussed the possibility of President-elect Obama embracing or recreating tools like as a way to make government more interactive and participatory. This week, Obama's transition site,, did just that by introducing its newest feature, a section called "Open for Questions." Built using the Google Moderator platform, Open for Questions allows users to sign in, submit their own questions, and vote on other people's questions. The top-rated ones will be answered by the transition team.

A few kinks remain to be worked out. After being up for only a couple of days, there are already more than 600,000 votes on more than 7,000 questions. However, the front page displays only the top-rated questions, except for one randomly-selected question at the top. This means that navigation of the questions is difficult, and it's easy for new questions to get quickly buried.  

Even so, this is a very promising system, and a lot of the top-rated entries are really excellent -- big, important questions that don't often get addressed on the campaign trail or in televised debates. Of course, the first thing on everyone's mind is the economy, and the first-rated question is

"What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?"

But there are a lot of other interesting questions, too. A few examples from the top 20 questions that you might not have heard from George Stephanopoulos:

"What will you do to end the use of mercenary forces (ie Blackwater) by our military?"

"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

"Why are we rebuilding our national highway system instead of building high-speed passenger rail and revitalizing our cities and towns through the development of mass transit? Is this not key to our long-term economic and environmental well being?"

"Our agricultural policy, formed by Pres. Nixon, has resulted in our being both overfed and undernourished. Will you appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who understands that we have been operating using unsustainable/unhealthy farming practices?"

If they can get the navigation issues worked out, I think this feature has the potential to really shake up the debate and breathe some new life into the American political process. Of course, part of being a leader is prioritizing and making decisions, but I really hope that the Obama Administration works hard not just to ask for our input, but to thoughtfully answer the important questions that the American people are asking.