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Pols, Writers, Activists Dive into Health Reform Summit's Stream

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, February 25 2010

Credit: The White House

After this morning, I'm rooting for someone to suggest earmarking funds for airplane maintenance during today's bipartisan health care summit at Blair House between members of Congress of both parties and President Obama. I spent four hours sitting on a runway at JFK airport because some dashboard light either wouldn't go on or wouldn't go off. No take-off meant no in-flight wifi (and thus no blogging). Still, I was able to track the progress of the health care come-together fairly well just by getting online via my iPhone. That's because coverage of the summit's start came in a multitude of channels, from live blogging to live tweeting to online chats and more.

Whatever might come out of today's group therapy session in terms of legislative progress, it's probably fair to say that progress on another front is unavoidable: how those inside, outside, and around government learn to navigate the stream of information made possible by the real-time web. Here's a quick look at how people from all corners are -- in the context of today's bipartisan health reform summit in Washington -- experimenting with disseminating, annotating, and analyzing the stream of information we're able to access about what government looks like today:

  • Credit: Facebook.com

    The White House is itself live streaming the full event on White House Live, complemented by the Facebook chat they've been using to provide interactivity to live events. The White House new media group has pushed out "blogger friendly" embed codes to help get the event seen as far and widely as possible. (See above.) And they've sidebarred their stream on WhiteHouse.gov with a "Real-Time Viewer's Guide" -- a.k.a. @whitehouse's Twitter stream. Plus, the Obama White House has a short link program going to make the summit about as easy to tweet, Facebook, etc. as possible. Thus, the White House's stream becomes, simply, wh.gov/h. Getting a more character-saving URL for the day than that would take some doing.

  • Credit: Sunlight Foundation

    Saying that they want to "let the data do more of the talking," the Sunlight Foundation is, they report, building on the experience they gained from live-blogging the White House's launch of the Open Government Directive a few months back by hosting a meta-summit on their site that puts front and center the fundraising data, vote record, and industry ties of whichever member of Congress happens to be speaking at the moment.* Sunlight admits that, this being the first time they've used the caches of available political data to insta-annotate a bipartisan legislative summit, they're kinda winging it. "We won't know everything we'll want to do until we hear what our leaders have to say," emails Sunlight's Jake Brewer. It's probably fair to say that the White House itself is a bit of an inspiration for what Sunlight is doing. It's likely not for nothing that SunlightFoundation.com/Live shares much in common with WhiteHouse.gov/Live.

  • Credit: Organizing for America

    Organizing for America is also live streaming the event video, with the twist that they're live-tweeting "highlights" from the proceedings that can be retweeted with a click. ("Pelosi: 'I can tell you many stories -- I've seen grown men cry' over lack of health care.")

  • Journalists like Mother Jones's David Corn and the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz are experimenting with covering the main event on Twitter, with the latter tweeting, "Can I really tweet this health care summit for 6 hours? Might succumb to sore fingers or mental fatigue..." Commentary is also coming from more purely political corners; the Republican National Committee's Todd Hermann, for example, is tweeting his take: "President Obama is seething on the inside that people aren't bowing to his will."

  • Finally, on the question of what comes next: YouTube announced that, by last minute agreement, congressional leaders from both parties -- Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Boehner -- have agreed to cap their long day of summiting by taking questions submitted by the public through Google Moderator. That's an interesting little coda to a day that is witnessing some new experimentation in what the web might, just might, mean for how we engage in politics in the years ahead.

*Note: Our Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.