Just over a year ago Google+ launched to much hype that it would replace Facebook and change how we interact online. It didn't replace Facebook. The 'Hangout' feature did change how we talked to groups of friends, family or colleagues online though.
Suddenly we were able to see everyone on our screens but, the conversations largely remained the same. There was still chitchat about our daily lives, and now you could also see who was falling asleep in those weekly conference calls.
For a group of fair dinkum Australians what they talk about online will change. Adjusting their webcams so that they look just right will still be important but, they'll find themselves looking into Prime Minister Julia Gillard's face instead of their mum's.
It's not often that you find yourself in conversation with a head of state, let alone battling through technical difficulties in a Google Hangout with one. Saturday will be an Australian first as Gillard takes questions from the public online about the direction of her government.
This event is possible through a partnership between Google, Deakin University, Fairfax Media and OurSay. It's the lesser known organisation, OurSay, that makes this Hangout different to when Barack Obama or other world leaders have taken to online forums.
OurSay is a technology start up focused on disrupting the political status quo by connecting citizens with decision makers. Using a question and voting model, three of the top questions as powered by this platform will be the ones put forward to Gillard. It sounds easy enough until OurSay gives you six more votes than what you would normally get for a total of seven; adding a whole new layer to the complexity of crowdsourcing public opinion.
Over 6,000 users have shown that democracy is not a spectator sport since OurSay started taking questions for Gillard. With widespread usage comes critics who have labelled the platform as everything from being a front for leftist groups to a playground for conservatives. Eyal Halamish, OurSay's CEO, sees the platform as a way for anyone to "gather people around the questions they want answered."
A tougher criticism to respond to is whether this will be any different to traditional town halls. Politicians and their answers pandering to the polls remain the same despite the medium they are being communicated through.
The diversity displayed in over 1,300 questions has been a testament to the platforms ability to give a voice to issues not generally heard from anywhere on the political spectrum. Here are some of my favourites:
- Rebecca on when and what the Prime Minister will do to end the childcare crisis for educators and parents,
- Lily on when will the Prime Minister disallow the introduction of an Australian Lingerie Football League,
- Darren on why Australia can continue to ignore global standards when it comes to protecting indigenous human rights and,
- Ehon on how Australia will tackle the stigmatisation of mental health that is further permeated through our health services.
With questions as broad as this, how will Gillard still be able to play the party line this Saturday?
Disclaimer: Linh Do is a non-executive director and co-founder at OurSay.
Follow Linh Do on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lmdo