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9/25/2009
01:18 AM
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Congressman 'Crowdsources' Healthcare Bill

Texas Republican John Culberson has posted the House healthcare bill online and invited constituents to annotate it using a Web 2.0 collaboration tool.

John Culberson, a Texas Republican Congressman, says if people actually knew what was in the healthcare bill, they'd oppose it. So he posted the entire text of the bill to the Internet, using a Web 2.0 tool that allows people to annotate the document and comment on it.

"It's incumbent on me as a representative to make the process the most transparent and open to the public, so people can actually see what Pelosi and Obama are prepared to do with their healthcare, and their relationship to their doctor," Culberson said in a phone interview with InformationWeek Thursday, hours after the document went live.

The Congressman's office is using technology from SharedBook to host the bill. SharedBook allows users to make notes and comments on a document, but not to alter the document itself.

Comments appear inline, and can pertain to the entire document, or individual sections, paragraphs, sentences or even words and dollar amounts. Only the residents of Culberson's district are permitted to comment electronically on the bill.

"The SharedBook software allows my constituents to log on and analyze the healthcare bill word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, and have a realtime debate about what the healthcare bill means," Culberson said. "I'm crowdsourcing the healthcare bill in order to make it as transparent as possible to make it easy to see what Obama and Pelosi are proposing."

The bill (H. R. 3200) is also available on the Congressional Thomas Web site, but can't be annotated there.

The commenting system is similar to the tracking feature in Microsoft Word. Users click and drag the mouse cursor over the section of text they wish to comment on, then click the "comments" icon on a window at the bottom of the document, and enter their comments, which appear in a tabbed area. Users may also reply to comments left by other users.

Comments appear in a window underneath the document. The user can click on a comment, and the document view jumps to the section of text being commented on.

One comment on the healthcare bill, from someone identifying himself as "rcondon," said: "This represents an absolutely improper use of the Federal government's resources, not to mention a usurpation of States rights."

A user named "docwright" said: "The proposed healthcare legislation that the democrats are trying to push down our throats is ridiculous. Name one government program that is efficient and that works well. Medical residencies are full of foreign medical graduates. The brightest young Americans are not going to choose to go to school for all of those years to become a doctor. Soon, you will not be able to find a doctor with an Anglo-Saxon name."

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