Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Opinionator: Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellentrop

This is still CNN: Joshua Levy, co-founder of the blog techPresident, which tracks the role of the Web in the 2008 campaign, is disappointed by the rules for the two presidential debates co-sponsored by CNN and YouTube (the first one will feature the Democratic candidates next month in Charleston, S.C.). Because all of the questions will come from YouTube videos created by Internet users, the debate is being advertised as “a revolution in citizen participation in presidential politics,” Levy notes.

“But there’s a glaring omission,” he objects. “CNN will be the sole arbiters of what videos are shown and questions are asked. This format is contrary to what YouTube’s community of users — and other online communities like it at Digg, Facebook, MySpace, and elsewhere — are used to.” Levy continues:

Members of the YouTube community upload a video hoping that it will be seen, commented on, responded to, and virally spread by their peers. This behavior functions as a kind of distributed voting mechanism, in which those videos the community likes most float to the top (though as Micah [Sifry, the blog’s other founder] suggested earlier today, it doesn’t always work that way).

But if CNN has total editorial control over what videos are shown to the candidates, it’s pulling the rug out from under the so-called “user-generated content” revolution. This stuff is much less fascinating if a third-party gatekeeper comes in and tells us what is interesting and what is fluff. Instead, YouTube and CNN should let YouTube users decide what the best questions are, and then use those questions in the debate.