jan 21

Lessons on Whitehouse.gov

A follow-up to yesterday's post: In an article in Newsweek, I mention that the first post on the new Whitehouse.gov is hopeful: a message of transparency. But actually, even before we get to the administration's goals with the site, isn't it fascinating that people actually care about Whitehouse.gov? Know what I mean? When I put the before/after shots of Whitehouse.gov on Flickr yesterday, it didn't occur to me that it would take off quite that way. But now it has 219,000 views, and people suddenly seem to care about a website they probably never had reason to visit before. This seems like a radical break. (After all, when was the last time you went to a federal government site for actual information? I download tax forms sometimes, but that's about it.) For the first time in our digital lives, the internet might actually fulfill one of its earliest utopian ideals. There are many obstacles, but it feels like a hopeful time for the hive mind to finally get its true test. If the Obama administration can shift their web efforts from providing information to creating knowledge, we could be on the precipice of something radically different: people participating with governance. Update: Oh, I guess this explains the Flickr traffic.


What struck me about this was that Obama has become a symbol for a number of things, most of which he outlined in yesterday's speech: the end of left-right politics, the dawn of the digital age, a repudiation of the steady march right since the Reagan/Thatcher years.

So it's interesting that a website becomes symbolic itself in this broader ideological shift, this network of symbols that, until we (you?) see what happens, are we all have. I think this is one of the reasons I like to talk about websites as ways of 'locating' things like ideology or identity. Where they once would have existed in the imagination, in 'a feeling of something' (and I think 'feeling' is actually really important to how Obama will function on both a practical and emotional level), they now are 'at a place', becoming virtual reference points in a system of cultural exchange (of signs, ideas etc.) If Obama heralds a new age (I'm rolling with the bombastic rhetoric for now), and the new digital age is all 2.0-y, then it's just sorta' interesting of how a website, itself marked out as a symbol in the online era, becomes a cultural reference point. You've probably said all this already, but... I dunno, I guess I just think the symbolism of websites is important and sorta' fascinating.

posted by Nav at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2009

Oh, also, this is related and interesting:


posted by Nav at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2009

Both you and Newsweek imply that change.gov is down, but it's still there. I kinda hope it stays there long enough for us to be able to use its content when determining how successful this administration has been in achieving its stated goals.

The previous iteration of whitehouse.gov was great for getting transcripts and finding out what was REALLY said...one could argue that that was a form of "transparency" as well, but 24 hours later, it's already long forgotten and who really wants to talk about it?

On a completely different point... you know, sometimes a shorter robots.txt is just a shorter robots.txt and not necessarily a metaphor for ANYTHING. I'm just sayin'. (That was probably Kottke, but I'm only good for commenting in one place and I already started here.)

posted by CRZ at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2009

It's also interesting to compare this to the recent quasi-astroturfing by the Israeli foreign ministry--even if all the constitutional and technical bugs get worked out, it's not clear the White House site will escape feel-good partisan branding. (Another metaphor for Obama! Can't seem to escape them.)

(This comment should not be construed as either criticism or support of Israel's foreign policy, nor as a warning about nefarious Jewish plots to take over teh internets or anything like that.)

posted by Jared at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2009

Yeah, there's a good post here about the robots.txt file.

I think the idea is more "symbolic" than actual.

posted by Rex at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2009

Furthermore: whitehouse.gov Website Code.

posted by Rex at 8:09 AM on January 22, 2009

I should have looked harder; it was actually pretty easy to find.


They didn't archive the robots.txt, though. (Boy, SOMEBODY hates Cuil!)

posted by CRZ at 4:11 PM on January 22, 2009

And while I'm here, the Clinton versions can be found at: http://www.clintonlibrary.gov/archivesearch.html

posted by CRZ at 4:16 PM on January 22, 2009

NOTE: The commenting window has expired for this post.