State Dept. goes digital to plot foreign policy suggestions

The State Department on Thursday unveiled its latest Web foray: Opinion Space, a virtual cloud of user-submitted foreign policy suggestions.

The project, managed in part with the University of California-Berkeley's Center for New Media, uses "data visualization and statistical analysis to give all participants an equal opportunity to have their opinions heard and to vote on the ideas of others."

The interface is intriguing, albeit a bit difficult to figure out on first glance. But put simply, every participant is a "point of view" on the literal, point-based map, according to the State Department.

Each suggestion's position on that map thus corresponds with other users' points of view: The closer two users are to each others perspective, the closer they are on the map. (That's why users must first complete a five-question survey -- to give the program a "baseline understanding" of one's foreign policy positions, according to the State Department).

Then, users may rate others' submissions. The more ratings a comment receives, the larger the point appears on the map.

Interestingly enough, State Department officials do not seem to be screening comments as they are posted. however, the Web site specifies the program automatically filters comments for "profanity."