November 17, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
Welcome to The Weekly Web 2.0, a featurette I'm posting each week here on Govtech.com. I'm scouring the Web to bring you two interesting 2.0 tools that I hope you'll find worth checking out. Some finds may serve you professionally while others may be better for personal business. And a few will do both. This week I explore You2Gov and Politikia.
With the most recent presidential election behind us, the high many of us felt from having taken an active role in the democratic process is beginning to wane. For most Americans politics is a quadrennial thing. The government is just too big, requires too much money or too many insider contacts for most people to really effect change. One person can make a difference, but that usually means the rest of us can't.
That's where You2Gov comes in. You2Gov is a site that aims to put regular people on the same footing as lobbyists and special interest groups.
Launched in July, You2Gov leverages the power of Web 2.0 to do more than reconnect high school acquaintances or aggregate football stats for your fantasy team. You2Gov is a social network built on the idea that the Web can help individuals organize into a collective wielding real political power. The site allows users to create communities, share resources and exchange ideas. You2Gov achieves this by consolidating into one place data that's otherwise flung far and wide across the Web. On the site, users can easily discover the issues and actions their representatives and elected officials are dealing with. You2Gov users can place a Skype call to their representative or use a comprehensive Web form to contact their elected officials about any subject.
"Most Americans don't have the money to hire lobbyists to get inside information and access to their elected officials," said founder Alan Silberberg in a press release. "With You2Gov.com, regular Americans now have their own access to power, and it's free. The information on the issues, the research, the form letters and contact information for elected officials is all there. All You2Gov users have to do is log on, share their ideas and concerns, connect with like-minded citizens and take action, either individually or collectively. It's that simple."
While it continues to grow into an ever more accurate resource, Wikipedia will always suffer from mischievous users who alter entries with data that's inaccurate or intentionally false. While Wikipedia's moderators do their best to limit such incidences, it's unlikely the information found there will ever be considered 100 percent reliable. Politikia takes the Wikipedia concept, applies it to politics exclusively and injects a dose of democracy.
At Politikia any registered user can submit an issue and state a position. But once that's done, the Politikia community has the last say. For example, take gay marriage. On Politikia you can click "issues" and find gay marriage. On that page you'll find several stated positions, such as everyone should have the right to marry; marriage is between a man and a woman; and support civil unions but oppose gay marriage. For each position there are listed prominent groups and representatives who share the opinion. As a Politikia user you can then choose a position you agree with or state your own position. Once you've done that, you can submit materials defending your position. Then the Politikia community can vote for or against your arguments. As votes stack up for or against an issue, the leading side can alter the page accordingly. So if there are more votes against gay marriage, those who support that argument have control over what the Politikia page on gay marriage will look like.
The site is still in beta and needs more users before it can flourish. But the foundation is there for a clever and quasi-democratic way for people to engage in thoughtful political discourse.