Obama's Google+ Hangout Didn't Change the Game, It Just Changed the Channel

The President of the United States held a Google+ Hangout today. He fielded questions selected from over 130,000 submissions as well as from five lucky Americans selected to hang out with him live. For the rest of us, it was a streaming video experience. It began with a swooping, dramatic intro, and then Google MC Steve Grove took control of the proceedings.

This is the most user-friendly White House in history. It was a nice experiment in Web-enabled democracy. But despite the great camera angles and the believable-but-composed real-world folks, it stretched the definition of "social media" pretty thin. User-submitted content is good, and the hand-picked live participants get to be involved, but for most of us, it's no different from television.

The Hangout dynamics did offer some back-and-forth between participants and the president. The action didn't feel scripted. On the contrary, it felt like people talking over each other, just like a video chat usually does, except there was a moderator to occasionally interrupt and move things along.

But for most of the audience, it was a YouTube stream. The link was posted all over Google+ by various accounts, including the White House, YouTube and Google Politics & Elections, but the comments there were spammed-up and useless. It wasn't a social event except for the selected participants.

In that sense, it wasn't much different from the president's live event at Facebook last April. It was good publicity for a social Web platform, pro-Web PR for the White House, and a TV-like experience for the rest of America.

This was certainly a game-changing event. It was a demonstration of YouTube's looming succession to television as the most influential video platform. This was a triumph of a tech company over media companies. The production values were high, the program was engaging, and the content was timely. But for the public, it was no more of a paradigm shift than changing the TV channel.

Did you watch the White House Google+ Hangout? What did you think? Share your reactions in the comments.