The 2008 Democratic White House contenders go online on Thursday for what sponsors are calling the first presidential "mash-up"—a Web-based video forum that allows viewers to pick and choose what they want to see.
Interviews with each of the eight Democratic candidates will be cut and posted online by topic and candidate. This will allow users to organize the responses according to what they want to see—directly comparing some answers and completely skipping others.
The forum, sponsored by Yahoo, the Huffington Post blog and the Web magazine Slate, will be available on Yahoo's main news site on Thursday.
It is aimed at potential voters, particularly young people, who are often turned off by the traditional debate format that subjects viewers to rambling discussions, particularly those held long before the November 2008 presidential election.
"This is the first debate to offer people who live online what they love about being online—the ability to choose, be interactive and decide for themselves what their experience will be," said Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post.
"They will actually engage with it and spend time with it and interact in a way that we have not been able to do."
The forum is the latest step in the exploding use of online tools in political campaigns, from Web videos to social networks.
The candidates will be interviewed by satellite on Wednesday by PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose on the issues of Iraq, health care and education. A wild-card fourth topic will be chosen for each individual candidate.
Rose will be able to follow-up questions in an effort to keep the responses on topic, and the answers will be edited and posted. The Huffington Post and Slate will provide links to Yahoo, which will host the site.
Scott Moore, senior vice president of news and information for Yahoo, said the format was designed to be different from the typical one-size-fits-all debate.
"We wanted to come up with a format that was more interactive and innovative and takes advantage of the medium," Moore said.
If a voter wants to see just the answers on Iraq, they can line them up and watch. Or they can view Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's health care answer compared to the one given by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, he said.
"We'll have segments for every question and every candidate so as a user you can navigate through the material in any way you choose," Moore said.
Moore said the sponsors hope to have a similar forum with the Republican candidates, although none have committed yet.
"I think they probably want to wait and see how this goes. If this format proves successful, I don't know how they would not do it," he said.
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