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Will the MTV/MySpace Presidential Dialogues be history in the making?

BY Liza Sabater | Wednesday, September 26 2007

I remember the shock of seeing Bill Clinton in the MTV studios settling the boxer vs. briefs debate back in 1994. If the sax moment with Arsenio Hall turned Bill Clinton into the rock 'n roll president, that naughty bits moment on MTV was historic for how it changed forever the rules of media engagement for all presidential encumbents and wannabes.

Tomorrow John Edwards is poised to have his own history making moment thanks to MTV and MySpace. The presidential hopeful is kicking off the first of the MTV/MySpace Presidential Dialogues at the University of New Hampshire.

When I first heard of the event I had an immediate "meh" reaction. As a techie, I didn't make anything of the concept of a produced for TV town hall meeting where people IM questions. Yet while interviewing Jeff Berman,General Manager of MySpace TV and Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at, I kept thinking of this event as probably the first large-scale experiment in political augmented spaces here in the United States.

Lev Manovich, is a new media art and theory professor at UC-San Diego who first introduced the concept of augmented spaces in 2002. Combining architectural and digital arts aesthetic theory, Manovich proposes the idea of augmented space as one that becomes portable and mobile with digital, mobile and wireless technologies. It is also a space that changes and is malleable based on the layering of contexts. It is more than being in a place --it is being in a place when you can't be in it by not just interacting with the space remotely but changing the contextual value of that space through interaction.

This may sound a bit esoteric but it is crucial to understanding the potential value of the MTV/MySpace events. If people do not have to be in the same room with the candidates in order to change the actual impact of their performance, then this MySpace/MTV experiment may be the closest thing to real-time polling and prediction of who the nominees will be come next year.

Here's how it works : MySpace and MTV have produced set of interactive layers they will be using for each and every presidential dialogue. At last count, there were 6 of them :

  1. A town hall meeting itself (and in different parts of the United States), where about 300 attendees will be selected through MySpace and MTV.
  2. Streamed live webcast on and MTV
  3. IMing of questions for the candidate filtered through a moderator.
  4. Instant voting on answers through a flash-based polling widget available at and
  5. Comments section on the official blog entries about the webcast to appear in MySpace and MTV
  6. Video clips of the streamed webcast

This does not include all the personal blogging, vlogging, podcasting, forums, chats, phone calls and iterations upon iterations of 'citizen-generated' content that will happen during and after the event.

During the course of our conversation Berman described MySpace as a neutral platform, one on which money, race, ethnicity, not even language posed an obstacle to participation. "We are in the cusp in deep meaningful changes in how politics happen in this country today", Berman said. He described his job as the political guru of MySpace as one of empowering his members through the neutral platform that MySpace offers because "if you communicate effectively you have the opportunity to impact real people around the world".

Yet the money quote was about what this neutral space brings to the candidates' table : "It is like a real-time national focus group. It is another opportunity to engage with voters and constituents". Think about it : Not only do they have profiles of users in their databases, but they will have web analytics on each and every media iteration (but the live webcast) to offer the candidates.

I see in the future of MySpace some serious premium memberships for candidates that would give them even more access to the numbers of this "real-time national focus group".