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Yahoo! Unveils Interactive "The Voice Of..." Debate Dashboard

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, October 2 2012

Screenshot of "The Voice Of..." landing page on Yahoo!

Finally, a day before the first presidential debate, Yahoo! has pulled back the curtain on the Commission on Presidential Debates' "The Voice Of…" online dashboard. It offers three options: "explore the issues," "voice your view," and "watch the debates."

Of these, obviously the second one has the potential to be the most interesting. After you sign in, you are offered the opportunity to take a short series of multiple choice questions and share where you on topics like health care, energy, regulation, education, foreign affairs, terrorism jobs, taxes and federal spending. Then the app plugs your data into a bunch of bubbles, so you can see how you compare to other participants in the aggregate. A dynamic counter also show, in total, how many people have "shared their voice."

This is fun to play with, but falls short of even the modest experiments in real-time audience participation and feedback that we saw during some of the presidential primary debates. Back then some moderators voiced questions that were submitted online and in a few cases the audience was not only given the ability to judge, in real time, whether candidates actually answered the moderators' questions, those cumulative judgments were pumped back into the live conversation, suggesting a new way to hold candidates' feet to the fire.

To most people, "sharing your voice" means getting a sense that you are actually being listened to. "The Voice Of…" basically creates a new kind of online poll, but not anything like a digitally networked conversation.

Of course, as I wrote here yesterday, it's naive to expect the CPD to do much more when it is essentially a handmaiden to the two major campaigns and the secret contract their lawyers hammer out governing the conduct of the debates. If in 2004 the CPD was willing to enforce a rule preventing participants in the "town-hall style" debate from asking follow-up questions or even offering non-verbal responses, why should we expect anything more genuinely interactive now?

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