Washington, October 12 : A student-teacher research team at Cornell University has developed a website that allows netizens to manipulate information about a fictional presidential candidate running in the 2008 election - Senator Julian Polonius Foley Marcos DeWiki III - by editing, adding, or subtracting text.
The objective behind the creation of the website wikicandidate08.com is to study online civic participation by researching how people work together online, and learning how groups in the Web world decide what topics are worth discussing.
"The mass media has a major impact on what people say during an election, but we know there are likely to be users with less-mainstream interests who may have a big impact on the discourse on the site," says Cornell University communication graduate student Josh Braun.
"We want to know if they mimic the forms of discourse you'd find in the news media or a political campaign. Do they take a more argumentative or persuasive tack? Or might they invent a genre that's unique to the site?" Braun adds.
Currently, candidate DeWiki leads a colourful life. His father Julian II grew up on a farm in Texas, and his mother Kandy Caine was a stripper.
He has 10 sisters, and an adopted brother from Mexico.
Through the people manipulating information about him, DeWiki speaks on a variety of issues.
On outsourcing, for example, he currently professes strong opinions of isolationism.
"If I win the election, I will make outsourcing illegal. I will make sure that U.S. companies pay very high revenues and fines for outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. These jobs should be given to U.S. citizens and legal residents so as to decrease unemployment and social dependence."
His opinions can be changed through editing.
Braun says that he is content with the participation thus far.
"I've been impressed by the amount of pro-social content. Because of edit wars surrounding political issues on Wikipedia, people told us that designing a Wiki dedicated to politics might be stepping right into the deep end. We've seen a little ugliness, but there are thoughtful articles and instances where users build from each other's ideas - and even proofread each other's work," he says.