A few moments ago, shortly after President Obama took the oath of office, a switch was flipped and a new website for the Whitehouse was unveiled. Since the 90’s there have been more than a handful of upgrades, updates, and redesigns to the President’s website but this new site is a vast improvement over the others. Not due to the wonderful design or the fact that each page validates, those improvements are nice but they are small and mostly unseen merits compared to the bigger improvements to the space.
Macon Phillips (former online strategist for Blue State Digital—the folks behind the Obama ’08 campaign Internet endeavors), the Director of New Media for the White House says there are three priorities for the new website: Communication, transparency, and participation. The first two have, in some fashion, been a part of Whitehouse.gov for a number of years. It’s the third initiative that should raise a few eyebrows.
President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.
I’m going to assume this means more than just turning on the ability to post comments and I look forward to seeing how this idea executed, maintained, and used by the President’s office. I hope there will be a time when we’ll get a chance to look behind the curtain and see how responses are collected, parsed, turned into reports, and how that information is used in the President’s decision making process.
Meanwhile, anyone who is looking to succeed using the Internet as a main channel for talking to clients, customers, and constituents should follow closely the work Macon and his team are doing. The model they are following is one that can certainly be used beyond government work.