Consider the following: Twitter records more than 200 million tweets per day, many that capture ideas, observations and opinions. Compared to the start of the recession in 2007, it’s now possible to analyze which parts of the country are saying (and recommending) what. In other words, are Americans in rural Michigan echoing the same sentiments as those in midtown Manhattan? If not, what are the key differences and how can Washington tailor its policy objectives accordingly? What messages are getting through and why?

Voters too, are taking advantage of more direct lines of communications with elected officials and participating in political decision making outside of election seasons. Already, a few forward-looking political leaders use new platforms to determine next steps on divisive policy issues via collaboration and idea-sharing. They modify the language they use to express issue positions based on social media intelligence reports. And these techniques will only become more common by this time next year, in the heat of the 2012 elections.

Until now, scientific polling has been the most effective way to measure Americans’ opinions and beliefs. Yet the advent of cloud-based policy making creates a real-time barometer; new platforms and approaches, as we’re seeing with the White House town hall meeting this week, offer the very real possibility of transforming the way government and policy making work. In short, government can get closer to the people, decision making becomes faster, and the potential for more crowdsourced, innovative solutions to the nation’s problems increases. 

Every member of Congress and major government agency maintains a website with a “feedback” or “contact” button, but government officials’ main way of convincing people to click buttons or fill out forms — generic e-mails sent to enormous lists — is the way of the past. Collaboration via social technologies will define the next chapter.

Social media, cloud computing and other Internet technologies already play a major role in politics, but the true disruption has yet to come. In the near future, policymakers, citizens, and government agencies that master the transformative potential of these technologies will mold public opinion, influence elections and transform the way the nation is both listened to and governed.

Daniel Burton is Senior Vice President of Global Public Sector at