Dem Debate Video Widget Gives Power to the People

In conjunction with the Huffington Post Web site and online magazine Slate, Yahoo is offering users the ability to grab video clips of “debate” answers from Democratic presidential candidates and use them to make their own mashups.

Billed by Slate as the “first-ever online-only presidential mashup,” the endeavor features videotaped answers to serious questions fielded by Charlie Rose and less-serious ones from Bill Maher.

Visitors to the site can pick a question and then choose which of the eight candidates’ answers they want to view. The personalized editing takes place at Yahoo’s Web-based video editing site, “Jumpcut,” where the clips are also being made available.

Pick and Choose

The thinking behind the idea is that it allows people to tailor the debate to the issues they find most interesting. There is also the ability to stop the candidates’ rambling in mid-sentence, a feature that will be seen by many as the Internet’s best quality-of-life enhancement so far.

In writing about the venture, John Dickerson, Slate’s chief political correspondent, asserted the online debate will be useful for people who are fed up with journalists “getting between you and the presidential candidates.”

The mashup feature means those with creativity can cut-and-paste or otherwise edit the content to their heart’s desire.

“You can construct your own ideal debate from the video building-blocks provided,” Dickerson wrote on Slate. “No smarty-pants pundit or producer will be throwing out Chris Dodd’s answers because Dodd is an asterisk in the polls. You can serve yourself the full Chris Dodd experience. Or you can create some hot (candidate Mike) Gravel-on-Clinton action, if that’s what you’re into.”

Comparison Shopping

The online debate idea has some interesting and valuable potential, said Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling.

“What’s interesting is that it allows voters to compare interviews and sound bites on specific issues,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld. “I think there’s novelty here, but it’s also valuable in allowing people to compare candidate positions side-by-side on issues of concern. It’s sort of like online comparison shopping.”

The online debate has its limitations. The candidates fielded Rose’s questions, supposedly chosen by Yahoo subscribers, about only three topics: Iraq, healthcare and education. Unlike a real, live debate, there was no face-to-face banter.

However, the idea broke new ground in the still-young mixture of Internet and election, Sterling said.

“Historically, people have not been able to do this sort of candidate comparison on their own,” he said. “They’ve had to rely on the media or pundits to understand similarities and differences. I think it’s valuable and useful, if novel.”

Or Just Crude Entertainment

The Huffington Post published on its site — apparently as an example of the types of mashups that can be created — a “user remix” that has a satirical band of “Right Wing Closed Captioning” text appearing beneath a video of Maher discussing with Dodd the legalization of marijuana.

In posted comments relating to the mashup, some viewers said they were shocked by the crude language (there are references to getting high from smoking aborted fetuses). Others thought it was hilarious.

“That’s just entertainment then and of more limited interest to me,” said Sterling. “But perhaps it will find a broader audience if these things wind up funny.”

Yahoo is allowing viewers to “vote” on the candidate they think won the debate.

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