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The People Choose 2006: The First Political YouTube?

BY Joshua Levy | Wednesday, September 27 2006

This election year it's all about citizen-generated content. Another site has launched that is promising big things in the way of citizen involvement in the campaign process.

The People Choose 2006 is, frankly, a stellar addition to the web's growing arsenal of citizen-powered media. Ultimately an online repository of user-contributed videos, blogs, and commentary about campaigns around the country, it's one of the first new sites to take advantage of the political possibilities suggested by YouTube. In it's own words, the site wants to:

"democratize" the 2006 midterm Congressional and Senate elections—to let American citizens help shape the nation’s election coverage and give them access to factual information about elections that includes the priorities of voters...

We hope to change the way the media cover elections in the U.S. by giving citizens a role in that coverage. By building a national online community whose members can see one another’s needs and priorities, we seek to move Americans away from the politics of attack and narrow issues.

Videos are organized by state and race, made easy by an interactive Flash map on the homepage. Click on a state and you're brought to a page showing the races and candidates in that state. Click on a candidate's name and you'll see videos associated with that candidate, a summary of the race, and bios of candidates that are running. If you notice something missing you can upload a video, commentary, or a description of the race.

The "Videos" section of the site features all of the videos in the database and the ability to search for videos (this search function needs to be improved -- I'd like to see popular tags/keywords show up on this page to make things a bit easier). There are already loads of videos, mostly campaign ads, on the site. Eventually they will be complemented by citizen-contributed videos.

This is not the only database of campaign videos; the Washington Post's Mixed Messages is a particularly complete listing of ads organized by candidate, state, party, issue, character, music, etc. But The People Choose 2006 has an open structure that -- if we believe in the "wikification" of knowledge -- may provide a more thorough and honest look at present and future campaigns.

The site is associated with Link TV, a satellite television channel available on DirecTV and the DISH Network that features viewer-contributed videos. This means that videos uploaded to The People Choose may also be featured on Link TV, which has an audience of 28 million subscribers. The creators of the site hope that this will help force down the cost of campaigns and make it easier for challengers to compete since they won't have to spend millions on TV ads. To be sure, this is behemoth-sized task, but it needs to be done.

The site is explicitly non-partisan, making its commenting, blogging, and forums features particularly exciting. If the site is successful at recruiting users from across the political spectrum, it could host some of the liveliest political debate on the web, a refreshing change from sites that are often little more than partisan echo chambers. For instance, when a Democrat uploads a video that supports Ned Lamont, or attacks Joe Lieberman, Lieberman supporters could rise to his defense and actually engage in dialogue with Lamont supporters. Likewise -- and this is already happening -- partisans can post opinion pieces on their blogs, and expect dissenting comments.

Is all this hope for civil debate and citizen involvement wishful thinking? Maybe, but The People Choose 2006 should make us hopeful for a political process based not on big money and polarized debate but on civil discourse and open access.

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