Web 2.0 at the White House

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(Photo: Look close at that lower-left corner, folks: at long last, the American President has a blog.)

My editorial calendar tells me today’s post should be about the Chicago Transit Authority. But yesterday, while I was engrossed along with the rest of the planet in the historic inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, I was stopped in my tracks by a visit to the White House homepage, www.whitehouse.gov.

I expected the media gods of the new Administration to update the site as soon as Obama was sworn in. But I didn’t count on the sweeping, visitor-friendly changes or the web 2.0 appearance and functionality that I found there.

Gone is the stuffy language and befuddled layout of the previous, Bush-era page. In its place sits a near-clone of the Obama campaign site in terms of look and feel (minus the “donate” button, of course). As it turns out, that’s a good thing.

Atop the new page sit six simple tabs that lead visitors to well-thought-out silos of information together serving as an admirable summary of all things Presidential:

  • The Briefing Room
    One-stop-shopping for all Administration news, reporters pool updates, Presidential proclamations, information on nominations, and–probably most importantly for the next few weeks–Executive Orders. (In other words, if you’re jonesing to learn how Obama is rolling back the Bush years in his first 100 days, look here.)
  • Agenda
    A series of pages similar to what existed on the Obama campaign website that lay out the Administration’s agenda in key areas. (See in particular Civil Rights, for a series of LGBT policy stances that would probably give the McCain/Palin camp a collective stroke just to read.)
  • The Administration
    Bios for Mr. and Mrs. Obama and Biden, as well as an introduction to the Executive Office and summaries of all the offices and entities that fall within it.
  • About the White House
    A concise, interesting introduction not only to the Executive Mansion, its history, rooms, and artwork, but also to Air Force One, Camp David, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and the lives of previous Presidents and First Ladies.
  • Our Government
    An area laying out the three branches of government, as well as discussing the Constitution, all federal agencies and commissions, and the American electoral process and voting.
  • Contact Us
    And finally, a web form for submitting comments, questions, and suggestions to the Office of the President, albeit limited to a Twitter-esque 500 characters.

Below these tabs, the new White House homepage features a scrolling collection of four news items, similar to the feature scroll on Chicago’s new CTA homepage. (See, I did fit them in somewhere!)  Yesterday, of course, these features centered on Obama’s inauguration and the newly rolled out changes to the White House site.

What I find most impressive of all, though, is what’s featured–and very prominently–just below the features scroll: a blog.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States at long last has a blog.  And it only took until 2009 to get there. Okay, so comments aren’t enabled and the blog’s actually written by Macon Phillips, the Administration’s Director of New Media, but it’s a titanic step into the present era of electronic communications for Washington. In case that point needs underscoring, re-read the previous sentence. Four words, folks: Director of New Media.

The initial blog post by Phillips sets out the overall aims of the Presidential new-media effort: communication, transparency, and participation. Given that, it’s no surprise that the new White House homepage now features six separate RSS feeds, for blog updates (natch), notes on the Presidential agenda, Press Office news, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) news, and photo and video gallery feeds, as well as an option to receive updates by email.

All of this appears to be brought to you by the new Office of Public Liaison & Intergovernmental Affairs (OPL-IGA), which promises on its web page to be working on additional interactive features for the White House site. As many of you already know, that’s the office overseen by longtime Chicago power broker Valerie Jarrett, who, according to the OPL-IGA bio page, leads a team of–you guessed it–other Chicagoans.

The upshot of all of this: the new www.whitehouse.gov is not your good-old Crawford rancher’s White House homepage. Instead, like the Obama campaign messaging before it, America’s new Presidential website has been crafted by informed, urban, and yes, substantially hometown thinkers to be relevant and accessible to rank-and-file Americans like you and me.

Just between us average Janes and Joes, I heartily encourage you to check it out.

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