Political parties in the UK have tended to have a relationship with technology in the same way that a fish has a relationship with a bicycle but that's no reason why the rest of us should be kept out of the democratic process. If Labour, the Tories and the fringe parties lack mechanisms for ensuring an open debate, then some form of social media will do the job nicely, so it's no great surprise to see Salesforce.com teaming up with Daily Telegraph publisher the Telegraph Media Group today for a site called Debate2010.
The site is based on Salesforce.com Ideas, used by the winning Obama team in the last US election (when it garnered 1.4 million responses) as well as in commercial settings at firms such as Dell and Starbucks. Being web-based it's a nice, simple forum to get people participating in an election that is threatening to be a walkover victory for the Apathy party.
I spoke to Salesforce Europe chairman Steve Garnett yesterday afternoon.
"Anyone who can use the web can get engaged and vote ideas up or down," he said. "It's using the power of crowds to get to the real issues people are passionate about. Those issues will go to the top and those that people don't care about will fall to the bottom."
As with any virtual idea box there will be some dull stuff but Garnett said that some gems will emerge too, noting that Dell found four per cent of ideas to be "nuggets".
Whether the parties will take any notice is of course another matter but this sort of initiative is welcome and might at least expose the gulf between what the dreaded Man On The Clapham Omnibus wants (restoration of the death penalty, no students or Johnny Foreigner, free healthcare and education but low taxes etc). As Garnett noted, we're using essentially the same tools as were available "in Disraeli's time and how bizarre is that?" Throwing open the debate might make the voice of the people heard, even if that voice is occasionally shrill.
Can it be gamed? Yes but Garnett said appropriate controls will be in place and insisted the site won't just represent fox-pursuing Torygraph readers but reflect a wider constituency of the British populace. We'll see.