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Change has arrived…and it looks like this

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Whitehouse.gov changes

(picture courtesy news.com)

At 12 PM ET, Whitehouse.gov changed. The official Website of the President relaunched with a prominent photo of the new Barack Obama alongside the slogan “Change has come to America”.  The new site contains various interactive features and includes links to Obama’s Agenda, weekly Web video address, slideshows appointments and importantly a blog.

The first post was written by the White House director of New Media, Macon Philips. It is titled “Change has come to Whitehouse.gov” and focuses on the themes of transparency and engagement. The Administration’s online efforts – including whitehouse.gov – will concentrate on Communication, Transparency and Participation.

Communication

This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated.

The internet, and other social networking tools e.g. @thewhitehouse, will play a major role in communicating the objectives and views of the Administration. Such communication mediums should be two-way, however, rather than being used as PR mechanisms. Failure to provide for meaningful conversations and dialog between the Administration and its constituents – through whitehouse.gov and other tools. – will quickly result in these conversations occurring elsewhere.

Transparency

President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government.

A small change in the transparency of whitehouse.gov was noted by Jason Kottke. The Bush administration set more than 2,400 rules to prevent search engines indexing certain material on the site. The new Obama site eliminates nearly all of these rules  allowing the content of the site to be easily searched.

Participation

One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it

Philips states that President Obama wants to encourage citizens to participate and engage with his administration using the internet. Further to Citizens Briefing Book and other methods of engagement citizens will have the opportunity to review and comment non-emergency legislation before the President signs it. This provision for citizen participation – trialed extensively on change.gov and throughout the campaign – has the potential to alter the dynamic between the public and Government. If such participation can been seen to have a positive impact in changing or re-evaluating aspects of legislation, it has to potential to increase trust and respect in the democratic process.

Another significant change to whitehouse.gov is the copyright policy. It stipulates that all 3rd party content is licensed under Attribution license meaning you are free to:

  • Share – copy, distribute and transmit the work
  • Remix – to adapt the work

so long as you attribute the work. The site copyright policy explains:

Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Choosing a Creative Commons license emphasizes the tone of sharing and remixing that the Administration, and their TIGR team want to promote throughout the Federal Government. Such openness conveys an understanding of the nuances of Copyright, and the potential for innovation created by the flexible reuse and remixing of information.

Openness and engagement

The Administration appears to have a coherent understanding and belief in the beneficial role technology can play in the governing process. The execution of whitehouse.gov and the efforts of the TIGR team will be crucial to its long term success. It will require President Obama and the Administration to stay engaged, listen to, and respond to the feedback of the public. The consistency of this approach, its openness during controversy, and the genuineness of the dialog will determine its success.

The Open Knowledge Foundation outlines 5 activities President Obama can do to promote Openness in his role. They include:

  1. Opening up Government Data
  2. Opening access to Government funded research –
  3. Publish public information in an open and reusable format
  4. Be clear on the legal and licensing of data and information
  5. Make content and data open by default

This Administration has an historic opportunity to harness the power and goodwill of millions of people to help in revitalizing civic engagement in the democratic process. How open and transparent they really are with the public towards solving the pressing needs of the country will determine if today goes down in history as the start of a new beginning. The tough work starts now.

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