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9/25/2009
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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.

He added, "The time is coming when a member of Congress will walk onto the House floor, and most if not all of their 651,000 constituents will walk onto the floor with them, watching and listening, even though they're thousands of miles away.

Culberson said he is intrigued by the possibilities of Google Wave, which he described as an attempt "to recreate on a single social media Web site all the intricate inputs we experience in person-to-person conversation, and expand it to a large group."

Google Wave, which is currently in preview, will allow people to have conversations in big and small groups, with interactive presentations, including embedded spreadsheets, reports, and videos. "I had a chance to see it in a visit to Google headquarters over the summer. It's got extraordinary potential."

Crowdsourcing government policy decision does have its problems. The White House has seen its efforts to crowdsource policy decisions dominated by groups favoring such causes as legalizing marijuana, taxing the Church of Scientology, and questioning Obama's citizenship. But Culberson dismissed those problems as nothing new; small, focused groups have always sought disproportionate interest by manipulating the media and letter-writing campaigns, and it's part of the representative's job to detect those sorts of campaigns.

SharedBook, the platform Culberson is using to host the healthcare bill, is the product of a six-year-old company of the same name, used for personalizing and customizing documents and books.

"All the annotations are attached to the document as footnotes," said company CEO Caroline Vanderlip. "The original document is locked down by the author. It's not a wiki, where everyone has the ability to make changes."

The software is optimized for making printouts at the chapter level or the whole document, with comments from the community, to make a permanent record--often required by government regulations, Vanderlip said.

The software is four years old, and is frequently used for making custom books, such as printed books of online guest books for obituaries from Legacy.com. It's also used by Google to allow users to make books out of Google-hosted blogs. It formats text in style suitable for printing out. And book publishers such as HarperCollins are using it to create digitally inscribed copies of books.

SharedBook entered the government market two weeks ago.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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