Barack Obama’s campaign promise to use the Internet to “create a transparent and connected democracy” will be put to the test when he launches a new White House Web site on January 20.
On that day, the Bush administration’s stodgy, wheezing version of whitehouse.gov will be carted off to the National Archives in its entirety, leaving precisely no legacy – and no limits.
Obama is already being touted as the first Internet president, but the Internet is about more than e-mail blasts and rallying the likeminded. If he and his team truly embrace the paradigms of the modern Internet – as defined by blogs and YouTube, Facebook and Google, instant messaging and crowdsourcing, wikis and reader comments -- Obama’s whitehouse.gov will bring unprecedented accountability to the White House. It will offer a vastly better way for the American people to relate to their government – and maybe even learn to trust it again.
Imagine a White House Web site where the home page isn’t just a static collection of transcripts and press releases, but a window into the roiling intellectual foment of the West Wing. Imagine a White House Web site where staffers maintain blogs in which they write about who they are and what they are working on; where some meetings are streamed in live video; where the president’s daily calendar is posted online; where major policy proposals have public collaborative workspaces, or wikis; where progress towards campaign promises is tracked on a daily basis; and where anyone can sign up for customized updates by e-mail, text message, RSS feed, Twitter, or the social network of their choice.
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Currently we have a president who has overt contempt for public opinion, who shields himself from opposing views and whose idea of White House Web site interactivity is a video of his dog.
Barack Obama has a chance to take governing to a whole new height. Currently the Obama transition team is actually soliciting public comments on its Web site, reading them and responding to them.
The Obama transition team set-up the website Change.gov as part of this transistion, and last week they used this site to asked members of the public:
They recieved 3,700 comments.
On Tuesday, former Senator Tom Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama's point person on health care, posted a video response. "I spent a lot of the weekend actually reading the comments," he said. "And I have to tell you I'm extremely moved by a lot of the stories that you shared with us. We want to keep this a very open process. We want to make sure that you understand how important those comments and your contributions are. We really want to hear from you, and already have begun to follow through with some of the ideas." Daschle's video has now generated an additional 3,800 comments and counting.
And as of last night, there's a new question on the site:
It's early and it's entirely possible that a Barack Obama administration will simply use the Internet as a glorified marketing device. But what's happening on Change.gov could be the beginning of a true national conversation.