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New Google+ Project Promises Public Policy Debates With a Celebrity Twist

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, March 1 2012

On March 13, Virgin Group magnate Richard Branson, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and actor Russell Brand will be among the guests in an upcoming debate on the war on drugs — using a Google + Hangout.

The Hangout — a video chat on Google's social network that can host up to 10 participants at a time — will be live-streamed on YouTube. It's the first in what Google promises will be a series of debates on social and political issues, called Versus, that will use the platform.

The project is being spearheaded by Intelligence Squared, an organization committed to revitalizing the art of live debate. The debate, also featuring former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and others, will be chaired by BBC newsreader and presenter Emily Maitlis.

According to a Google blog post, the debate series will give users the "chance to question people who are close to the decisions being made on topical issues, on both sides of the debate." There will be real-time voting on a YouTube channel that will allow the speakers to know how their arguments are resonating with viewers.

"By making use of the democratic potential provided by Google+ Hangouts," Versus says on its Google + page, "we can bring in voices from every corner of the world to the live debate held in London. Yes, there will be presidents, “experts” and a bit of Hollywood glamour, but the importance of the Plus debates lies in the fact that ordinary citizens from around the world can join in too. You can vote: you may even get the chance to speak."

Before the March 13 debate, users are encouraged to discuss the issue on the Versus Google Plus page, for example in response to news stories about the issue.