Yaki said that the contributions that people made through the public meetings had a significant impact on the final platform wording. Yaki credited the participants for inspiring them to write the platform in a more "action-oriented" tone and said that the meetings helped them suss out which issues were most important to Americans.
"We all got the sense from attending meetings and reading the meeting reports that people were frustrated by the economy, by $5 dollar a gallon gas, by the subprime crisis and credit crunch, worried about their jobs and health care for their families -- they wanted results, and they wanted them now," Yaki said. "Our platform incorporated that sense of urgency into the dynamic, proposal-driven document that we have today."
While the project was praised by some as a good first step toward political transparency, others believed it could have gone even further by engaging a larger number of people in a more accessible and efficient manner. Among those voices was a trio of young Internet entrepreneurs, who have long been inspired by the Internet's potential for opening up the political process.
Cornell grads and good friends, Dan Scanfeld, Vanessa Scanfeld and David Stern are the founders of MixedInk, an online collaborative writing tool aimed at synthesizing the opinions of a large group in a democratic and user-friendly way. Contributors on MixedInk write, edit, revise and rate texts on a scale to 1 to 10. The final product is the highest-rated piece of text, a document that fairly reflects the groups' shared point of view.
Stern thinks that the Democratic platform meetings could've engaged even more people online if they'd used technology like his.
"There's a limit to how many people you can fit in a room and there's a limit to how many people can participate in a conversation," said Stern. "We think it's great what the Obama campaign has done already in terms of inviting comments from many thousands of people who have participated in their listening to America parties. But we want this process to be even more transparent and engaging even more people in the future."
Stern was demonstrating his product to members of Netroots, a loosely affiliated organization of liberal bloggers, when campaign consultant and group blog MyDD.com founder Jerome Armstrong suggested that Netroots use the tool to craft a political platform of its own.
Armstrong argued that even with the changes this year, the drafting of the platform had become "less open and more controlled" throughout the years. He said Stern's tool had the potential to bring in a large group of diverse opinions.
And so Netroots drafted its own alternative platform. In the end, a relatively small group of 164 people wrote the 29-page document. One hundred and sixty-seven planks were submitted, revised, rated and narrowed down by many of the participants on all of the major policy issues, including the economy, health care, national security, foreign policy, energy and science and technology.
Armstrong admitted that the Netroots platform isn't perfect. But he argued it was a worthwhile experiment in harnessing the wisdom of the crowd.