Cornell U. Web Site Lets You Create Perfect Candidate

This story was written by Brendan Doyle, Cornell Daily Sun


Sen. Julian Polonius Foley Marcos DeWiki III will not be appearing on any ballots this November.

But if the research project of professor Tarleton Gillespie fc and graduate students Dmitry Epstein and Josh Braun is successful, he could unanimously be the peoples choice. DeWiki is the creation of users of WikiCandidate08.com, a non-partisan Web site that has been running since March. Any user can edit the candidates profile.

This is both a provocation of people, and a research project, said Gillespie. If it never does produce the perfect candidate, I dont think that means its a failure.

WikiCandidate hopes to bring people from across party lines to create the perfect candidate, a presidential hopeful who, ideologically and personably, all of America could support. Josh Braun first thought of the concept for Wiki-Candidate after the 2004 elections, when he noticed the complaints of his friends and colleagues about single policy issues or personality traits of a candidate. After beating the idea around with Gillespie and Epstein, Brauns vision began to develop in the nascent stages of the presidential primaries.

The context of the site reflects whats going on in the real election, said Braun. We wanted to see people hash out those [political] issues.

As planning for the site expanded, undergraduates, including Julie Bai 09, were recruited to help design and develop WikiCandidate.

I think its a really cool site, said Bai, who is a web developer and was involved with the usability tests in the preliminary stages. Through this social interactivity, I hope people see the importance of voting.

A short registration form is necessary to edit WikiCandidate. After that, users are free to change any part of the site, which was designed to emulate real campaign sites. The candidates life story, policies, news events and even supporters are all controlled by the users.

With several hundred registered users helping to shape his policies, DeWicki appears to be a socially progressive candidate thus far. According to his biography, Dewicki is a Hawaiian-born U.C.-Berkeley and Yale Law School graduate, who practiced with the law firm Swindle, Scrooge and Miserly. He is currently caught up in the turmoil of a mortgage bribery scandal. Additionally, users are able to view how the candidate has changed over time. At one point, the candidate was a woman. DeWicki was also Mexican born for a short period. Discussion forums accompany each section of WikiCandidate.

Well just let this thing run, probably through inauguration day, Gillespie said. Up to that point, its essentially up to the users to decide what happens to this person.

The project seeks to answer several modern social science questions, according to Gillespie. Among them are how people bring up controversial issues on the Internet and whether wikis are a viable environment for political discussion.

Though the Web site has a modest number of users at this point, the popularity is liable to increase as Election Day nears.

If you look at the usage, it definitely spikes around key political events, said Gillespie. Gillespie also cited an international presence on the site, due to European press publications about the project.

User humor has played a sizeable role in WikiCandidate thus far. Various posted items include pictures of Hello Kitty and Stephen Colbert. The official photo of Senator DeWiki is currently a wild-haired middle aged man, appearing to be yelling behind the back of a woman who can only be assumed to be his wife.

Someone had to get this started, and the way people started it was lightheartedly, said Gillepsie. Wiki-Candidate hasdrawn reactions from numerous blogs and political sites. The hardest part has proven to be captivating the interest of users to keep coming back.

Its an interesting website, for sure, stated graduate student Andrew Brenner in an e-mail. While I think its a good idea, I hope it does not detract attention from the real candidates and real issues.

The experiments future is based entirely on user responses.But there could very well be a WikiCandidate for 2012.

One of the things we wanted from the beginning was that it would be fun, it would be intriguing, and it would be worth peoples time, Gillepsie said. Lets see it through this election cycle, and see what people make of this.

Gillepsies cofounders reiterated the inherent research goals of the Web site.

From a research perspective, this project depends on many peoples participation, Epstein said. I was curious to see the mechanism through which people reach consensus.

A lot of the value is created in the process, not in the final product, Braun said. Were really interested to see what people do with this.
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