[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/01/art.obama.youtube.0201.youtube.jpg caption="YouTube solicited questions from citizens and then asked the top rated ones to President Obama."]Austin, Texas (CNN) – Get ready for more YouTube interviews with political newsmakers like the one President Obama did last month.
"This is just the beginning," said Steve Grove, the head of news and politics at YouTube, speaking over the weekend at the technology mega-conference South by Southwest on a panel titled "Interviewing the President: How YouTube Can Do It Better."
Grove, joined on the panel by Olivia Ma, YouTube's news manager, spoke publicly for the first time about the February 1 event, in which Grove asked Obama 14 questions in 30 minutes. All of the questions had been submitted over the course of five days over YouTube and voted on by the site's users.
According to Grove, Obama enjoyed the format and is open to doing another YouTube interview. "He's conformable in that environment," Grove said.
Grove did not say whether YouTube planned another Obama interview. But Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper did one just this week, as did Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who spoke exclusively about his new broadband plan.
At the same time, Grove said he realizes that "politicians want to do these when they are popular. Democracy is cool when you're popular."
The YouTube format has other downsides, Grove acknowledged. For one thing, journalists - politicians' traditional interview inquisitors - "are more informed about the issues." He said the White House press corps is better at holding the president's feet to the fire. "Knowledge is the biggest difference between citizens and journalists."
In addition, some of the questions also felt like softballs, Grove acknowledged. And the YouTube format also did not allow for follow-up questions or "live accountability," he said. Grove only asked the questions that users had submitted, and there was no back-and-forth conversation.
On the other hand, the interview drew its strength from its "community" and "engagement" aspects, said Ma, Grove's YouTube colleague.
The interview forged a powerful personal connection between Obama and YouTube's citizen questioners, and the people who submitted questions felt ownership over their government.
"You have a responsibility to engage with and talk with the leaders you elected," Ma said. "We felt people from around the country really had a stake. It was really their interview."
Ma and Grove also noted another plus of the YouTube format: "Google Moderator," the platform YouTube used for people to submit video or text questions and vote, allowed all users to have a say in what was asked even if they did not ask a question themselves.
While Grove is bullish on the use of social media to connect citizens and politicians, the new media is at the stage of "cave man sitting around the fire," he said. The craft of journalism is here to stay, he said. Algorithms can identify what is popular, "but there is this thing called editorial context. This has to be done by human beings."