Friday, February 29, 2008

Mr. Right But Not Too Far Right

Even as the field of presidential contenders has narrowed to the Clinton-Obama-McCain trio, there is still some desire among the electorate to combine the candidates' best features to form an ideal politician, much as Alberti advised Renaissance artists to make beautiful women in paintings by assembling faces with eyes, noses, or mouths taken from different models.

Enter WikiCandidate, a project designed by two Cornell graduate students to create an "online community" that fills out the details of a fictional candidate in which users are "given the opportunity not only to voice their political opinions, but to test them against the views of others in a collaborative discussion." In addition to elaborating on the ideal candidate's biography and writing news items about the campaign, visitors to the site can also identify issues that should be at the forefront of the election or practice building coalitions.

As many have pointed out, the discursive dynamics of the Internet tend to be politically polarizing, and it can sometimes be difficult to see collective intelligence at work. The disastrous experience of The Los Angeles Times with its wikitorials experiment and the Wikipedia lockdowns on pages with politically charged subjects like "abortion" or "George W. Bush" may only illustrate this point.

Perhaps when working with a fiction there could be more consensus. Unfortunately, I fear that putting Stephen Colbert in as a placeholder for the fictional candidate may encourage visitors to treat the site as a joke. Hopefully he won't be in that position for long. Certainly, there are other competing websites promoting political consensus-building this season, including the heavily advertised from the AARP. But at WikiCandidate, you get to design and edit everything, even the buttons, placards, and bumper stickers.

Now we are entering a time of differentiation and separation in political discourse. Is Obama really like Kennedy? Is Hillary Clinton really like Bill Clinton? At a time of partitioning, this exercise in aggregation is an interesting thought experiment.

Thanks to Tarleton Gillespie for the link.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home