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The +Newt Gingrich Google Hangout: How'd That Go?

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, July 13 2011

Last weekend, you may recall, Newt Gingrich had promised to host a group video chat on Google's new social networking service, Google +. Well, it happened — and the Gingrich campaign has posted the video to YouTube, what looks to be 13 minutes of a lightly edited back-and-forth in which the former Republican speaker of the House discusses everything from the space program to Thucydides with a slowly rotating cast of up to 10 Americans at a time.

"Unlike the president, who took an extra 30 minutes to start his press conference, we want to get in the habit of starting our Hangouts on time," Gingrich said during the beginning of the event. He has promised to hold issue-specific events using the service, and said during the last one that he planned to host one on space, specifically.

During the video chat, using a Google + feature called Hangout, Gingrich made no news with his answers. But the event looks to have been digitally native in a very real sense — and that's interesting in itself.

The conversation was interrupted from time to time with the various burps and farts of online life — the beeps and dings of people joining, people leaving, people sending and receiving emails, people getting GChat messages — but that's what it actually was, a conversation. Gingrich took the time to throw questions back at some of the other nine participants, such as a professor of political philosophy who interrupted some study of Socrates to participate. Gingrich hemmed and hawed his way from Thucydides, to the French Revolution, to the Roman Empire, before his interlocutor found an opportunity to ask him about the current debt ceiling debate. (The short version: Gingrich — surprise — says he would not support a tax increase.)

Is this that online town hall-style medium everyone's been looking for, one that will bring any great improvement to American politics? Probably not. Because of how Google's mechanism for dividing up the people you know on its social network works, Gingrich — or anyone — can pre-screen their pool of possible Hangout participants. One could literally create a "Friendly Crowd" Circle on Google + and invite only that Circle to talk.

This looked more like the online version of a campaign stop at a New Hampshire diner than anything else, but that may not necessarily be a result of the chosen medium. Imagine, for example, if Gingrich or some other politician was willing to create an "Editorial Board" Circle and host a real-time video chat with that crowd.

(With Becky Kazansky)