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Hey - it's a brand spanking new White House website

By Jimmy Orr / January 20, 2009

Jake Turcotte

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Just like former President George W. Bush handing the keys to the Oval Office to President Barack Obama today, the new-media teams exchanged virtual keys as well -- as in the keys to Whitehouse.gov.

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Shortly after noon (EST), the brand new site appeared.

Team to team

Full disclosure: As the director of the White House website during President George W. Bush's first term, I was part of a similar exchange between the two teams eight years ago.

Judging from the appearance of the new White House web site, it is apparent that the Obama new media team had some time to work on the new presentation. The 2000 Web team didn't have much of a head start (and for the first few months, it really showed).

Great looking site

How's the new site look?

A lot like the campaign sites. That's not a bad thing. President Obama ran an excellent e-campaign and his website was very user-friendly, as is this one.

The site is attractive, modern looking, easy to navigate, free of clutter, and makes an excellent use of photos.

Note to Macon Phillips (the new media director): Make good friends with the White House photographers and editors. You'll want as many photos as you can publish. It looks like you are off to a good start.

Changes

We've already seen some changes prior to the launch of the new site. President-elect Obama began recording his radio addresses in a video format. That's smart. It doesn't take much more effort to do a Web video than to do a sit-down audio address -- and you expand your audience significantly.

As for the current site, there's not a lot on it - yet. Right now it's the standard stuff: press releases, position papers on issues, photos, and some history.

This isn't surprising. In the first months of the Bush administration, the site was slim pickin's also. The New York Times's Elisabeth Bumiller did a story on the evolution of our site back in 2003.

She correctly noted, "Once it was a no-frills government site with little to offer the general public -- Jimmy Orr, the director of White House Internet operations, refers to the Bush site's early days as the 'stone age.' It was equally rudimentary when it began in the Clinton administration. But now it has woofers and tweeters, with what Democrats would call heavy-duty propaganda mixed in with pictures of Barney, the presidential terrier."

Bumiller was right. It just took awhile to get the site up to speed before adding a lot of features and really taking advantage of the technology.

And to be fair, the Clinton White House site was very advanced for the 1990s. Mark Kitchens was ahead of his time.

Bloggy

The fact that the Obama team has a prominent blog on the home page is great. Of course, the Obama team blogged (and had many bloggers) during the campaign. The blog on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's web site provided solid information as well.

These guys get it. It's not about formal language. It's about speaking like a person. Really connecting with visitors. We saw it during the campaign. It's no surprise they're doing it here.

Woe is me

As much as the Bush Web team lobbied for one, we could never get a blog up on the old White House site.

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin quoted me back in 2004 stating that we wanted to get bloggier. But that was crazy talk back then. Permission to post a blog was denied. So instead we worked around the system and created White House Interactive. This was just basically a way to interact with the public by asking them to send in questions and we would answer them online.

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