Social media provides opportunities for more people to come together in a common vision, so it is good that President Barack Obama is utilizing this avenue as a way to draw more people into conversations about the course of the nation.

Obama will outline his vision for the country in his State of the Union speech tonight. Afterward, about 100 people who follow the administration on Facebook and Twitter who were invited to watch the speech from the White House will take part in an online panel. On Thursday, Obama will take part in an online discussion on Google. The White House also is planning on streaming a version of Obama's address, and senior advisors within his administration will answer questions online throughout the week.

While much of what is being done has been planned as a way to build support for Obama and his proposals, opening the door to online conversations, utilizing social media and engaging the public in discussions about important issues is a way to get more voices participating in the conversation.

Obama is expected to talk about the nation's budget, as well as the need to reduce the deficit before automatic spending cuts kick in next month. Also on his agenda is immigration reform, gun control and climate change, all issues that traditionally spark heated debate among the public.

Both sides in these debates can capitalize on the ability of social media to bring more people into the conversation. Hopefully Obama won't just use this as an opportunity to push his agenda and give voice to his supporters while ignoring opponents, and will open up the conversations so that we can have a real dialogue on the issues.

One thing that has become apparent in recent years is that we need to give less prominence to the extremes on both sides who consider compromise a dirty word, and whose only interest is in getting their way. The ineffectiveness of Congress and high disapproval rating they receive from the public demonstrate that the majority of Americans are fed up with these antics, and there is a growing desire among many to focus on solutions and areas where we do agree changes should be made instead of wasting all our energy creating barriers.

The success or failure of this experiment will depend on not only the number of people participating, but on their own willingness to explore alternative viewpoints and search for common ground.

Those holding positions on the extreme edges of contentious issues have dominated the conversation for far too long in this country. Perhaps, if even people join in, we can change that dynamic for the better.