A little while ago, I had a nice phone interview with the National Journal about the role of technology within the Obama White House. My synthesized thoughts follow those of Lawrence Lessig, a humbling position indeed.
Alexis Ohanian is one of the founders of the popular site Reddit.com, which launched in 2005 and is used by thousands to rank which news stories appear on the site's home page. Based on what he's seen with Reddit, he said, most Americans won't bother going to a site to rank projects to fund, and of those people who do visit, most won't contribute a vote. What will remain, he hopes, are people who consider themselves informed enough to cast a vote. For his part, Ohanian takes transparency a step further, dreaming of a day when the Internal Revenue Service lets Americans log in to see how their individual tax dollars are being spent and then lets them redirect their money.Reading it this way, I felt compelled to clarify what appears to be a rather bleak forecast for participation.
Based on what he's seen with Reddit, he said, most Americans won't bother going to a site to rank projects to fund, and of those people who do visit, most won't contribute a vote.My belief that most Americans wouldn't bother going is a combination of apathy (something I believe these technologies would ameliorate) and that the majority of reddit traffic is not logged in -- and thus non-voting.
That said, the motivations for visiting reddit.com and this policy site are quite different. The majority of redditors just want to be informed or entertained and needn't affect the rankings. Whereas I'd envision a significant portion of traffic to this site would be visitors arriving to make an impact. And you can be sure a number will be driven by email blasts from interest groups.
Ultimately, the more transparency that can be brought to the process, the better. Lessig is right to point out that replacing the decision-making process with ill-informed citizens would have a negative impact. But this technology can be just the thing to make citizens better informed about their government. If we can get up to the minute stock quotes and news about Apple, we ought to demand (and get) the same from our representatives.
After all, we're paying for them -- let's get our money's worth.