Micah Sifry points out that Obama's "online town halls" are really just "transparency theater." Referring to Wednesday's online health care forum:
They produced a forum that was less spontaneous and less-townhall-like than if all the questions had come from citizens live at the event using no technology at all. In effect, Obama's health care forum was like last year's CNN/YouTube debates--only instead of CNN producers hand-picking the video questions, here the White House eliminated the middleman!
Instead of the online town hall, I think the Obama administration should re-conceptualize this as an open and transparent FAQ. In other words:
- Let people submit any questions they want whenever they want. Don't just run it for a couple of days and then pick and choose from the questions.
- Track which ones are most important today, this week, this month. Obama or a staffer can answer the ones that bubble up to the top of those lists, in whatever format they want, via a town hall, or just a blog post.
- The questions that are always popular, simply get answered on the site, like an FAQ. Anyone who comes to submit that question again can already see the answer.