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 Plagued with the design that wouldn't win any contest, non-existent interaction and outdated technologies, the site looked and felt as if it came from past.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]
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.
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.