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Obama Hangs "Open for Questions" Sign on the White House

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, March 24 2009

"[W]e're going to try something a little different," says President Obama in a new video released tonight. "We're going to take advantage of the Internet to bring all of you to the White House to talk about the economy." And with that, the new administration inaugurated the West Wing edition of Open for Questions, the experiment in giving citizens a direct line to the Oval Office that the transition team first ran during the Change.gov days.

As Micah mentioned below, Open for Questions signals that the Obama Administration is taking seriously its stated commitment to running a participatory and wired White House. OFQ was announced in a blog post posted just an hour or so before Obama's traditional press conference before Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper, and the rest of the the White House press corps tonight. On Thursday, the president will take time to participate in "a special online town hall." The event will be live streamed on WhiteHouse.gov, and he'll answer "some of the most popular questions." (That's wording, of course, that gives the Administration a good deal of wiggle room in deciding which questions to address).

That's not a great deal of time, and might be one way of managing the influx of questions. A little over an hour after the feature went live, about 1,150 people have submitted 815 questions and cast 22,500 votes. [UPDATE: Some new numbers -- as of 8:40pm ET, approximately 2,400 people have submitted 2,200 questions and have cast 59,500 votes.] Like the Change.gov version, this new Open for Questions is powered by Google Moderator.

During Blackberry-gate, we spent much time talking about how his trusty PDA might help keep the new president from being trapped in a hermetically-sealed White House bubble. Obama stills seems eager not to let that happen. "This is an experiment," he said, in announcing OFQ. "But it's also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about...This way, I can get a sense of your concerns, and give you some straight answers."

He wrapped by issuing a bit of a challenge: "So, America, what do you want to know about the economy? Just go to whitehouse.gov and ask me."

UPDATE: Our Andrew Rasiej offers a comment: "This represents further proof that the new media team at the White House is determined to bring the White House on par with the web as we know it today and fulfill the President's promise for a more transparent and responsive government."