Like many things of this nature in the tech space I usually come down with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, getting tech out there, using it for a good cause, and actually engaging people is a great thing. However, when you attempt to force something into a hole it wasn’t designed for I get annoyed.
In other words: Great job using what is out there, showing you are engaged, and showing the benefits of this great technology. However, don’t pretend it’s something its not.
This “hangout” was pretty well controlled from every possible angle. Granted this was to be expected, but I’d be curious how many Google and White House staff time and effort went into this. The point of a Hangout really is instant on, instant engagement, and then move on. It is pretty clear weeks of effort went into this hour long Hangout. (To include branding it, pre-screening questions via YouTube, and ensuring no potential technical failures during the event.)
That said, the production quality of the event was top notch, it made everyone involved look great. (And don’t get me wrong..that IS good.) However, I’m hard pressed to put this event in any other category other than a media campaign event. I’m even a little nervous to call it a town hall due to the fact that the questioning audience was limited to the Google+ Hangout max of 10. This was a product and people are buying it.
Now, all that said: None of this is “bad.” In fact, most of it is VERY GOOD. Even as a media piece, this event sparkled and showed an organization that is good at what they do. It becomes another option in the tool box for communications and engaging different people. (Remember this administration also did similar events on Facebook and Twitter this year.) It also shows that this type of technology CAN be used for actual, open citizen engagement. (This didn’t take place here, but it could have.) Granted Hangouts are limited to 10 interactive parties right now, however there are lots of options on how to do a revolving round table, etc.
If nothing else, this showed that people are interested, want to engage, and in some cases members of our government WANT to engage as well. All in all, this is a good thing, but plenty more can be done to actually engage the great people of this country in a way that is completely open. For now, just ignore the man behind the curtain.