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Talking heads

September 13, 2007 | 11:06 am

And no, this isn't about music and the rock band David Byrne fronted.  It's about the online Democratic presidential debate put together by Huffington Post, Slate and Yahoo!, which went live today.  After being billed this spring as the first online debate and promising to make it interactive with viewers, the planners turned in a different direction and opted for the "mash-up" approach, according to Mario Ruiz, spokesman for Huffington Post.  And with the candidates being asked questions separately by PBS' Charlie Rose, there was no debate involved.

For Web-savvy folks, this seems more like a missed opportunity than anything groundbreaking.  The best that can be said for it is that users can narrow the presentation to the candidates they like, but it's still static.  There's a mechanism for voting for your favorite candidate, and some message boards, but as of mid-morning the boards were mostly silent, even after moderators salted them with questions to try to start a dialogue.

And the one potentially interesting element -- letting users grab raw video from the answers and creating their own Q&A mashups -- died on the vine.  Too bad.  It could have been entertaining (though not very informative) to find alternative answers to the "wild card" question Bill Maher asked John Edwards on whether he would extend his criticism of SUVs to cows, since methane (and clear-cutting for grazing lands) also contributes to global warming.  Imagine cutting and splicing answers to that question from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's responses to a question about Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress this week.

-- Scott Martelle