Wonders of the Web, Part 1,437: Crowd-Sourced Inauguration Speech

Are you one of those people who, when confronted with a “What profession, other than your own, would you most like to attempt?” question on a James Lipton/Bernard Pivot/Proust questionnaire, answer “presidential speechwriter”? If so…your moment has come!

Well, kinda. Slate is harnessing the power of the wiki to give wannabe Bill Safires/Jon Favreaus/Toby Zieglers of the world their moment in the oratorical sun—via the text-sharing MixedInk platform. The proposition: write Obama’s Inaugural for him! (Kinda!)

Here’s how it works, per a Slate press release:

As you compose, MixedInk’s technology will search for similar words and turns of phrase from all 55 previous inaugural addresses, as well as contributions from other users, and tell you if anyone has had similar thoughts. You can then incorporate these into your own speech (or decide to stick with your own words). You’ll also be able to search for useful snippets of text yourself. The technology keeps track of authorship, and when you’re done, you can share your speech with others, who can then borrow (or ignore) your handiwork as they see fit. They can also rate your speech and comment on it.

At the end of this process, which will last about two weeks, Slate will publish the speech with the highest rating. (We may publish a few interim versions as well.) Maybe it will be the one you wrote—with a little help from Jefferson, Madison, and FDR. And maybe President-elect Obama will decide to borrow from your speech—at least that part where you quote Lincoln—when he delivers his Inaugural Address on Jan. 20.

Yep, um, maybe he will. I’m personally looking forward to hearing elements of my own contribution—the words “hope,” “future,” and “America”—at the Inauguration. But even if Slate’s experiment doesn’t translate to the text of the new president’s speech, even if it doesn’t end up producing the first crowd-sourced Inaugural…it’s still a neat idea. Viewed as a social experiment rather than a purely political one, it’ll be fascinating to see, in two weeks’ time, what words Slate readers decide to put in the new president’s mouth.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.