President Barack Obama participated in his first ever Google+ Hangout this afternoon to answer Americans’ questions about his State of the Union Address from last week. According to the White House, he had planned to answer “several of the most popular questions” submitted and voted by viewers on the White House’s YouTube site, but this was not the case.
The White House YouTube site indicates that 18 of the 20 “most popular” questions were about marijuana, even though the top voted questions were about a wider range of issues; include the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer, the controversial National Defense Authorization Act, and SOPA/PIPA. Further, there is indication that some submissions have been removed from the website. The questions that the president chose and answered beg an important question itself: who controls the conversation?
Watch the Full Hangout Here
The Google+ Hangout opened the first 23 minutes of the event on the economy, and the president spent more time answering direct questions from the five participants in the hangout than in addressing pre-submitted ones. In fact, Anthony Millian’s pre-posted question about the living wage was not even among the highest-voted on the White House YouTube site. This format, though, allowed for a unique level of engagement with the president, and Hangout participants were able to rebuttal Obama’s response through follow-up questions. Google’s moderation was easy and smooth, and Steve Grove actively solicited opinions of Hangout participants.
Unfortunately, this leaves the majority of the rest of us out of the equation. None of the top-voted questions or the most popular questions was answered by Obama. LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, used the Google+ Hangout to activate its constituency to submit scores of questions on marijuana legalization. Eighteen of the 20 most popular questions were on this issue, and three of the seven top-voted questions garnered 16, 721 votes on this topic.
Despite this, Google did not pose a single question on the issue. It’s unclear who “picks” the question – Google or the White House – but the selection is likely to leave plenty of viewers disappointed.
With two minutes to go in official time, after each Hangout participant had the chance to ask a question, Google chose two of the highest-voted questions on the site, including one about SIPA and one on Richard O’Dwyer. Obama spent about a minute on each before one last entertaining question by an Obama impressionist. Google then passed the mic to Hangout participants to ask individual questions from everything from Snickers bars, to wedding engagements, to potential job opportunities as the president’s personal doctor.
Ultimately, the Google+ Hangout seemed to be only marginally influenced by viewers and more driven by the five Hangout participants who focused on the economy, education, and foreign policy.
While important issues, the conversation did not adequately incorporate voices from the internet as expected. Ironically, though, Google+ did prove the quality of its own product by demonstrating how virtual interaction engenders personal relationships: each of the Hangout participants made an individual plug, and one is even sending her husband’s resume directly to the White House.
Photo Credit: Porchlife