The White House starts blogging, goes web 2.0 and social

Posted by Christian Zibreg

Washington (DC) - The new administration
of yesterday's sworn-in U.S. President Barack Obama has taken its first steps
toward change by unveiling an entirely redesigned White House
website. The symbolic move reaffirms Obama's tech-savvyness and puts
technology on the map for his administration. With this change, the
official White House website is finally, for the first time ever, in sync
with the latest web 2.0 trends - including blogging, YouTube videos and
eye-catching slideshows. The welcomed change results in a sophisticated,
inviting and more personal experience.






The overhauled White House
website whitehouse.gov (not to be confused with whitehouse.org which
pokes fun of Bush administration) is the first promising sign of new
winds blowing from the Oval Office (especially to us that follow
technology closely). The redesigned website launched during Obama's
swearing-in ceremony, and serves as a symbolic ice-breaker for the new
President.

The White House website during the era of the former U.S. President
George W. Bush did not rate high among average users, let alone those
who knew a thing or two about the technology. Plagued with the
design that wouldn't win any contest, non-existent interaction and
outdated technologies, the site looked and felt as if it came from
past.

The new site features a polished look, pleasing aesthetics
and is easy on the eyes with crisp typography and easy to grasp
navigation. Overall, the website feels much more immediate, inviting and
personal thanks to engaging articles with the latest web 2.0
technologies. The latter is the most refreshing change and demonstrates how government-run
websites should be built and conceptualized. The most notable change of
all, however, is the new blogging section. Yes, the Obama administration blogs!

Blogging, RSS feeds, official White House YouTube channel

"WhiteHouse.gov
is just the beginning of the new administration's efforts to expand and
deepen this online engagement," wrote Macon Phillips, the Director of
New Media for the White House, in the first blog entry. Several other posts showcase the new writing style which ignites otherwise boring
topics. Everything suddenly appears easier to understand and is really
engaging.

Philips
wrote that new site focuses on communicating and articulating
the administration's policies and decisions, in addition to offering a level of transparency and interaction with citizens. The blog is RSS-friendly
with article summaries provided in feeds - meaning the White House
still wants you to visit the website to read entire articles. [Note: Your IP address will be logged each time you visit. -Ed]

Briefing room and multimedia

The Briefing Room
section is the place to look for the latest official information from
the President, including slideshows of official events, executive
orders, a weekly video address, appointments, nominations and
proclamations. The entire website makes great use of photos and videos, cleverly used across different sections to liven up the overall atmosphere.
Blog posts are spiced up with embedded videos that stream from the official White House channel
on YouTube which was unveiled in parallel with the new White House website.

In
addition to video, blog posts and site articles put emphasis on
eye-catching slideshows like
this Obama's visit to the Supreme Court.
The site's slideshow section has kicked off with several ice-breaker galleries that
depict memorable moments from our history. These include paintings of all 44 Presidents of the United States, official photographs taken in the Oval Office, and more amusing content like the Presidential Pets section.

History made fun and engaging

Besides blogs, other sections have received the Obama touch as well. The Administration section
provides biographies and backgrounds on key figures in the Obama
administration, including Vice President Joe Biden. A wealth of in-depth
information about the White House and the government does not get boring either thanks to short articles that focus on interesting facts. For instance, the White House 101
section features "facts and fun for all ages," in addition to a
comprehensive outlook of the White House, its history and what it means
today.

Interaction with citizens

Another new feature is the ability to contact the government
to send your congratulations to the President, ideas or suggestions for
site features. The contact form is limited to a maximum of 500
characters per message, which shouldn't be difficult with the cellphone and IM generation used to creating short text  messages.
There are also email updates to keep you in the loop as major
announcements and decisions from the President are issued.

Conclusion

The content
found throughout the new White House website is
carefully crafted and written in a surprisingly laid-back, approachable
manner - one you'd
expect from a favorite blog and not from a government-run website. The
website also enables information sharing. All in all, it's refreshing
to finally see our government catch up with the latest interactive
social and web 2.0 technologies. Perhaps the best way to compare the
differences between the two websites is to check out archived White House pages
from the era of George W. Bush, or the gallery above in this article which shows images before and after the change.

The
old and new White House symbolically highlights the huge differences which have separated the former and the new President - at least considering
technology. Barack Obama made maximum use of all facets of technology during campaigning. He was
everywhere on the Internet,
including major social networking sites, which enabled him to reach
young supporters and raise the much needed funds. Obama has also won
sympathies for his refusal to give up his Blackberry.