EXCLUSIVE: C-SPAN launches gadget-fueled 'Debate Hub' as social, political destination

Summary:If you love using your gadgets -- and you're fired up about this year's election -- have I got a site for you.Less than 24 hours before the first debate, C-SPAN, the cable network known for airing non-stop, unfiltered coverage of government proceedings, has unveiled its "Debate Hub," a social destination for the American public during the four presidential and vice-presidential debates leading up to this year's election.

C-SPAN Debate Hub (click to enlarge)
If you love using your gadgets -- and you're fired up about this year's election -- have I got a site for you. Less than 24 hours before the first debate, C-SPAN, the cable network known for airing non-stop, unfiltered coverage of government proceedings, has unveiled its "Debate Hub," a social destination for the American public during the four presidential and vice-presidential debates leading up to this year's election.

The site allows users to follow the debate in near-real-time on their gadgets and simultaneously see how the Web is reacting to it. On the debate side, the site mashes up a transcript of the debate with video footage -- sort of like the New York Times -- and allows you to watch and share/embed clips of your choosing as the debate develops (it's on a 10-minute delay).

On the social networking side, the site casts a wide net and aggregates Twitter feeds and blogs on-the-fly and offers outgoing links to them. It's like a real-time showcase of how the 'Net is reacting to the debate, and it's the perfect way to utilize those gadgets on debate night: Twitter from your T-Mobile G1, blog from your Netbook -- and see it show up on C-SPAN's site. Call it the ultimate elections app.

(The site is a sort of coming-out party for the network, who first jumped on the web with this year's Democratic and Republican National Conventions.)

A producer for the site, Ben O'Connell, tells me that the entire site was built using open-source software. It uses Wordpress as a platform and a MySQL backend on a Windows server. The clickable, color-coded timeline is based on SIMILE, an MIT project, and everything is built with "PHP, jQuery, and a lot of custom Javascript," O'Connell said.

Similar to Twitter itself, C-SPAN is pulling in tweets live from the Twitter Search API, tagged with "Obama," "McCain," "Palin," "Biden," "Barr," "Lehrer" (and "Brokaw" when he is moderating), "#debate08," and "#suspending." The site's got a small staff that will "monitor and include anything else that is trending and makes sense" throughout the course of the four debates, O'Connell said.

As for the sharable, embeddable videos, you can slice them the way you want, much like if you were using Final Cut Pro (note the green and red sliders in the second screen):

C-SPAN Debate Hub timeline

The site is designed by JESS3, whose principals, Zvi Band and Jesse Thomas, seem to have drawn inspiration from Edward Tufte's sparklines for the debate word clouds. I'm also told that the site has 14 people employed from New Media Strategies for outreach, monitoring and community engagement.

From what I've seen thus far -- it's tough, because the site won't really heat up until the first scheduled debate (9:00PM EST Friday) -- it's a great resource and a really neat way to text, Twitter, blog and otherwise engage on debate night on a much grander scale. C-SPAN's mission is to be in the public service, and it's clearly doing so here -- spotlighting the public discourse happening via mobile devices, with some fancy interactives for those who stop by.

Come debate night, tweet away.

What gadgets will you use during the presidential debates? Tell us in TalkBack.

Topics: Browser, Social Enterprise

About

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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