US President-elect Barack Obama has taken his boldest step yet to usher in a new era of interactive government, opening a public forum for suggestions on the website of his transition team.
Change.gov, Obama's official website until he takes office on January 20, invited users late Tuesday to submit their views on health care, drawing an immediate barrage of hundreds of comments and triggering a lively debate.
The new feature, called "Join the Discussion," asked users to answer the question "What worries you most about the healthcare system in our country?"
To jumpstart the debate, the website displayed a video from two members of Obama's Health Policy Transition Team soliciting suggestions about an issue the Democratic candidate identified as a priority during his presidential campaign.
Users were asked to conduct a "respectful dialogue" and refrain from personal attacks, profanity and aggressive behavior. Unlike on government websites, comments were appearing on the site unfiltered.
Twenty-four hours after the launch, there had been more than 2,000 comments on the forum, which also allows registered users to give a thumb's up or thumb's down to each post, voting it up or down according to popularity.
One of the top-rated comments, with a score of plus 58, is from a user identified as "kllmt" who calls for a shift to more preventative care.
"We're trying out a new feature on our website that will allow us to get instant feedback from you about our top priorities," said a posting on the Change.gov blog announcing the creation of the forum.
"We also hope it will allow you to form communities around these issues -- with the best ideas and most interesting discussions floating to the top."
"Join the Discussion" is the first foray by the transition team into hosting a public forum and an attempt to follow through on a pledge made by Obama to increase the involvement of the public in the political process.
When Change.gov was launched on November 6 following Obama's election victory it included an appeal to users to share their ideas by email.
But the site did not provide a public forum to display the submissions, a move which prompted some criticism among supporters of more transparency.
More grumbling ensued when Obama posted his weekly addresses to the nation on YouTube -- drawing one million and half-a-million views respectively -- but with the comments thread disabled. Comments were enabled on Wednesday.
The "Join the Discussion" forum got a thumb's up on Wednesday from Micah Sifry, co-founder of TechPresident, a blog about politics and the Web.
"This is a terrific start on fulfilling Obama's promise to make government more open and participatory," Sifry wrote on techpresident.com. "This is a big deal.
"When you consider that for the last eight years, the occupant of the White House has essentially told the public 'you get input once every four years, after that I'm the decider,' this is huge.
"Before our eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a rebooting of the American political system," Sifry said.
In an interview with ABC News to be broadcast Wednesday, Obama spoke about staying in touch with the public.
"One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation -- the bubble that exists around the president," he said.
"I'm in the process of negotiating with the Secret Service, with lawyers, with White House staff... to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House.
"One of the worst things I think that could happen to a president is losing touch with what people are going through day to day," he said.
"I want to make sure that I keep my finger on the pulse of the struggles that people are going through every day."