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Microsoft Unveils Crowdsourcing For Politicians

The TownHall platform aims to help public officials and candidates better engage with the public.

As part of a strategy to take advantage of the open government initiatives, Microsoft Monday released a new cloud-based crowdsourcing platform for public officials and candidates running for office.

Based on Windows Azure, TownHall tries to emulate the experience of being in an actual town hall meeting in a virtual environment, the company said.

Similar to Google Moderator, it allows people to ask questions, vote, read responses, and engage in a community discussion online. Windows Azure is Microsoft's cloud computing platform.

TownHall is part of a package of cloud-based services Microsoft unveiled Monday called Campaign Ready. The services, based on Azure, are aimed at letting candidates for public office build Web sites that can foster community discussion about issues and campaign topics.

Both TownHall and Campaign Ready were unveiled at the Politics Online conference in Washington Monday.

TownHall came out of Microsoft's work with NASA last year to develop a Web site called Be A Martian. TownHall was the crowdsourcing aspect of the site.

The Obama administration has mandated that the federal government leverage technology such as cloud computing and the Internet to find ways to more actively engage with the general public, and crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly popular.

Last year, the White House used Google Moderator to manage questions during a Presidential press conference. Some government agencies also are using crowdsourcing both internally and externally to encourage online discussions and idea generation about how they can be more open and transparent in their actions.

TownHall is now available for PCs, and Microsoft plans to roll out applications for various mobile devices -- including the BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, and Windows Phone 7 -- in the next several months.

Microsoft released TownHall code on its MSDN site so developers can begin working with it.

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