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Asking Questions of Public Figures

A startup in the U.K. called Yoosk has created a space for regular folks to ask public figures questions. Tim Hood, co-founder, says in an email:

Yoosk users will submit and then vote on the best questions which will be ranked according to their popularity. We will take the most popular questions and send them to the public figures being asked and request an answer on behalf of our members. The answers we receive will be posted on the site in a similar format to an online tabloid magazine and then members will be able to rate these answers according to whether they actually answer the question and whether or not they think the answer is truthful and sincere.

This is starting to become a trend, and it’s a good one. Another noteworthy effort is PrezConference on YouTube, where several presidential candidates have already answered citizens’ questions.

Yoosk is taking a page from Digg and Newsvine (and other such sites) in its approach, ranking by popularity the questions being asked. This will surely be gamed (see the previous posting), but it’s a good start.

3 Comments on “Asking Questions of Public Figures”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Apr 30th, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Umm, why is this a good start? Seems like:

    1) It can be gamed trivially – just have a bunch of partisans vote up “Why are you so magnificent?”

    2) What’s popular is not necessarily what’s important (left as an exercise for the reader).

    3) Who cares if a flack writes a canned response? So they say it’s a canned response, just look at the President’s press conferences to see how much that matters.

    This is actually one of the worst aspects of data-mining as government – the idea that FINDING-WHAT’S-POPULAR has profound public meaning. It doesn’t, because it’s usually not difficult at all.

  2. #2 Jon Garfunkel
    on Apr 30th, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    I don’t share Seth’s cynicism. I actually sketched out this idea three years ago. I think it’s a good idea.

    I just never thought that this would be monetizable. It’s fairly easy for an existing news company to do. The Online News Association should, as I’ve suggested, just start writing up an RFP for what functionality should exist in CMS’s.

    It also fits into the open-source reporting model and constructive media theory. A reporter should list the “known unknowns” in something resembling a FAQ.

    Granted, I’m skeptical in the citizen’s questions. The popular questions will likely be ones that are broad enough to win popular support– but they won’t be the specific sort of questions that reporters/experts would ask. This is what I started finding with Governor Deval Patrick’s new website. It’s not that things are gamed on purpose, they are just gamed because of the vagaries of of the information infrastructure.

    Dan, I’m still wondering something I had been researching back in August. Why does it seem like your principal commenters here are Seth and me? Neither of us are professional media researchers, affiliated with any academic institutions. Also, dear readers, I can only guess about Seth, but it’s not like I get a ton of fan mail thanking me for my observations on CitMedia.

  3. #3 Dan Gillmor
    on Apr 30th, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    I’m glad you guys are posting here, and have no idea why academics don’t…