In the June 2008 Atlantic, Marc Ambinder, touching on the remarkable success the Obama campaign has had leveraging the power of online social networking as a funding and organizational tool (documented well in the article by Joshua Green that Ambinder's piece accompanies), poses an intriguing question: "How would Obama's success in online campaigning translate into governing?"
What Obama seems to promise is, at its outer limits, a participatory democracy in which the opportunities for participation have been radically expanded. He proposes creating a public, Google-like database of every federal dollar spent. He aims to post every piece of non-emergency legislation online for five days before he signs it so that Americans can comment. A White House blog - also with comments - would be a near certainty.
As Ambinder notes, online governance could potentially foster a renewal of public investment and trust in its transparency. On the downside, it would also give opponents of an Obama administration a forum for pushback.
If you're looking for a prototypical model that offers a whiff of what this manner of participatory democracy might look like, look no further: a group of Obama supporters have launched OhBoyObama.com, which purports to be "the unofficial campaign think-tank":
Created by Obama supporters for the purpose of giving the Obama grassroots a platform to submit and vote on ideas to better the 2008 primary and general election campaign of Barack Obama. All supporters are welcome to contribute.
Registered users may submit ideas pertaining to any number of campaign categories, from policy formation to branding. Then, using a Digg-style voting system, participating members can push the ideas up or down, allowing consensus to send the most-preferred agenda items to the top, and the least favored to the bottom.
Naturally, the site suffers from all the limitations known to the phenomenon of the "wisdom of crowds," where individual expertise gets trumped by ideas that sound good. Additionally, we look forward to the site's first great hacking, where prankish internet denizens send something like "Have Obama glue horns and glitter to ponies and call them unicorns" up to the top of the list.
Nevertheless, the site offers some key insight into where Obama's grassroots supporters' minds' are right now. Key priorities as of this writing include transparency in government, maintaining the brand identity from the primary season, getting started on a fifty-state general election campaign, and stumping with John Edwards on a tour focused on poverty issues. And the least liked idea? Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Name Hillary Clinton the Veep Nominee," an idea that has thus far been deemed more toxic than having McCain on the ticket. Like I said, the wisdom of crowds has limitations.