Take a moment and visit our current Chief Executive's virtual office at WhiteHouse.Gov.
Now turn to President-Elect Obama's transition Website at Change.Gov, also an official government site.
Does the difference rock you like this weekend's Northeastern blizzard? The current White House site welcomes visitors to the Oval with the latest news and a series of mostly non-interactive features. Essentially, it has two interactive pages, both involving submitting screened questions to administration officials in a timed forum. There's a standard contact page with White House switchboard numbers and a comments email. Beyond that, the very fiber of the site signals no real engagement between the President's office and his millions of constituents.
From the first days of Obama's transition site, the President-elect has harnessed the power of the Web to engage more Americans. He immediately opened the administration's doors to job applicants online. As he has unveiled his Cabinet appointments, Change.Gov has posted weekly videos accessible via YouTube and updated the site each step of the way. With features like "Share Your Story/Vision," "Join the Discussion," "Your Seat at the Table," and an open blog, the incoming administration has had an unprecedented opportunity to listen to the American people before taking office.
If the White House preserves these new features and offers a fuller staff/office directory on a new WH.Gov, President Obama will be able to continue listening. Each Cabinet-level department should prepare for a similar relaunch engaging online more fully Secretaries and their deputies with the American people. Of course, it's easy to integrate these features and over time tune out the thoughtful contributions submitted. Only good reporting and time will tell if the administration values electronic feedback from citizens.
But Obama's transition efforts mirror those of his campaign site, whose sleek, futuristic design, campaign logo, and interactive functionalities constantly galvanized his network of supporters and often amused us in the press. Its blog format gave quick and easy updates, and its MyBO accounts enabled supporters to communicate with each other, arrange meet-ups, call undecided voters, and blog on the campaign news items. The page's bold white letters read "Because it's about you," and that's the sense most supporters felt, at least online. And Obama voter or not, post-11/4, all citizens, strategists, pols realize the campaign's Web efficacy. Even on a global scale, Obama's site is viewed as a model. Conservative Israeli prime minister candidate Benjamin Netanyahu's Website has borrowed its fresh skin and appeal.
After his victory, Obama's campaign and transition staff immediately reengaged supporters encouraging them to share their feedback through a "supporter survey". As one young political reporter recently told me, there has been fear, particularly among Obama's more active MyBO bloggers that the campaign would close their accounts.
As he prepares for Inauguration Day, Obama remains uniquely poised to change how the President of the United States interacts with the public whom he is elected to serve -- and how its Web office must play a decisive role in that service. The Internet is the medium through which Obama has, in part, revolutionized modern politics, and now he has the opportunity to work through the same medium to revolutionize governing.
With his transition Website, he already has charted an impressive start. Substantively, his Cabinet roll-out has been smooth, on-time, and mostly without controversy. While critics have emerged inevitably on both the left and the right, by appointing a diverse, centrist Cabinet (with at least two Republicans to date, though there's an argument he promised more) and by tapping Rev. Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation, he has demonstrated that indeed he may not be the average Democrat...or party leader.
And this is where Obama's technological prowess comes in again. As he pledged in the campaign, the conversation about the future of health care -- and on every policy debate -- should not be behind closed-doors but broadcast live to the world. Via online video and interaction, it is an chance for not only the President but the American people to hear the differing perspectives within the Cabinet and administration: a real public debate before the Commander-in-Chief makes critical decisions.
There is a plethora of possibilities for how President Obama can use the Internet to advance public discourse -- how he can compel a nation reborn of political will to ask what they can do for the future of the country, virtually. If only JFK had the Internet to work with, his first inaugural may have never ended.
Obama's Web gurus can quickly transform Change.Gov's basic interactive features into WH.Gov's makeup. But that's just the beginning. This new vision of WH.Gov is incomplete without expanded online access to all Americans interested in engaging in a healthy conversation concerning the nation's future, particularly the nation's less privileged youth -- and without Obama's Web team and policy shop, collectively, answering how the Internet can transcend virtual space to improve the lives and livelihoods of every citizen.