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change.gov Becomes whitehouse.gov

In all the excitement of the inauguration today, I wanted to call out one amazing success story. Today, change.gov became WhiteHouse.gov. For those of us in tech, this is an amazing affirmation. Not only did the Web 2.0 principles of user-engagement, viral outreach, rapid development, and real-time intelligence help Obama to win the presidency, he’s bringing the same principles and the same team to manage his outreach during his time in office.

This is an amazing moment for anyone involved with Web 2.0. There’s a long road ahead, but it’s clear that many of the lessons that were learned first on the consumer internet are now being applied to much harder, more serious problems.

Congratulations also to the team at Blue State Digital, who built both sites (along, no doubt, with many people on the transition team.) (BTW, for more information, see the Radar interview with Blue State co-founder and CTO Jascha Franklin-Hodge.) Big Oops. Don’t know why I said this, as Jascha explicitly told me last month that they hadn’t worked on the site. He confirmed this just now in email, saying ” We’ve long said that our focus as a business is not going to be government work, but we expect the incoming White House New Media team to continue the tradition of innovation that marked the campaign and the transition.” Brain fart. Thanks to commenter Arnie, who reminded me of this fact.

One of the things that excites me the most is the way that the new administration is reaching out to small companies rather than to the normal behemoths who bid on government contracts. Among other things, in an environment where we all need to do more with less, it’s fabulous to see how the latest web technology can be deployed by small teams. I think that there will be many opportunities in the coming year for technologists to make a difference in helping our new administration achieve its ambitious goals.

My favorite bit from today’s announcement on WhiteHouse.gov:

President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. 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.

There are going to be some real challenges for the administration in digesting and responding to those comments. But what a change!

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  • http://www.graphicstart.com David

    That is neat and a clean looking site (Not old fashioned). I like their blog and RSS feeds! Pretty cool, albiet expected, it is still change.

  • Josh Sheldon

    This really is a great success story already, with such a smooth transition. Anyone in tech knows how hard that is to manage.

    Now there’s the hope that this really will lead to transparency and participation in government along the lines of what we saw in the campaign. Go team!

  • http://perlbuzz.com/ Andy Lester

    It’s also worth crowing about the repeated use of the word “transparency.” Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we can certainly use some now, and for the future.

  • http://www.dogpatchdispatch.com mike mcgrath

    Too bad they don’t allow comments. Are we supposed to be writing longhand and licking stamps?

  • Bill

    Mike, who could blame the blog admin for turning off comments? Why leave the blog open to idiotic comments, haters, spammers, and the general drift of pointless comments that you know would show up?

  • http://twitter.com/baniak Layne

    The biggest challenge will be to make the other agencies that lie under the aegis of his administration as responsive and transparent as the WhiteHouse.gov website.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

    mike -

    If you were following change.gov, you’ll note that they did allow comments when they had postings where input was requested. I saw one Biden video on health care with 35,000 (not a typo! 35,000!) comments.

    The real issue is figuring out how to make sense out of all those comments.

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    “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.”

    If they mean it and act on the comments – that would be a ground-breaking change in our representative democracy. Imagine if knowledgeable people outside government and the beltway could actually have some impact on legislation.

    This should be revisited in a year to find out what actually is the impact.

  • http://twitter.com/cheeky_geeky Mark Drapeau

    Alex – Academics often call this “deliberative democracy” … perhaps we are now a step closer.

    Tim – I think the website and comments are a good start. But this is a “come to the website and find it for yourself” approach. It remains to be seen what kind of true outreach is conducted by the WH, and what role Web 2.0 might play in that.

  • http://gnrfan.org Antonio Ognio

    Computer technology has also been mentioned here:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/economy/

    The new administration plans to:

    a) Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.

    b) Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.

    I posted this as a question to Reddit.com, so please guys if you want to comment and throw ideas to the problem please visit this page, comment and vote:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/opensource/comments/7r62v/ask_reddit_obama_wants_21st_century_classrooms/

    Someone already suggested Sugar! But what else is around?

  • http://gnrfan.org Antonio Ognio

    Tim:

    > The real issue is figuring out how to make sense out of all those comments.

    Maybe they should support this opensource project:

    http://metascore.org

    It’s the (future) engine for Metagovernment.org

    At least they should take a look and grab some ideas from it :)

  • arnie

    bluestate had nothing to do with this site—the creator is under goverment orders not to divulge–guarantee it wasn’t bluestate–don’t make a fool out of yourself –check things out before claiming who did what.–check with bluestate.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

    arnie -

    Damn, I think you’re right. I’m now remembering talking to Jascha and him saying that they didn’t want to make the transition from doing campaign sites to actual government sites. I don’t know what I was thinking.

    My point remains, though, that web 2.0 has come to Washington – not just technology, but people, companies, and the cutting edge ethic.

  • Peter Fleckenstein

    Tim,

    Once again I feel that you’re trying to force the idea that Web 2.0 has come to Washington when all that happened today was whitehouse.gov got a new skin.

    The blog there? You mean the monologue with no area to comment?

    The ability to comment on legislation that’s already been passed by Congress? As long as it’s not emergency legislation – like the biggest spending of taxpayer dollars in the history of the world – ever? No the American people musn’t be allowed to comment on something as important as that huh?

    Come on – let’s get a grip folks. This was just a simple rebrand. Nothing earth shakingly new. No real value added. Just a new skin.

  • http://community.akoha.com/blog Austin Hill

    Great article Tim.

    I think Obama’s entire campaign has leveraged more the principles & philosophies that helped create the Web 2.0 movement, rather then adopting the technologies of the Web 2.0 crowd.

    Summarizing the Web 2.0 movement as ‘Architectures of Participation” the way the Obama campaign did their fundraising, orchestrated a political base outside of the traditional established party old timers and then used technologies to help execute strategies to support those philosophies was truly amazing.

    From their use of Facebook, web-based fundraising, citizen media messages (YouTube etc.) and even their the campaign messages (Positive, Inclusive, Open etc.) – you can see the same philosophy of participation.

    It will be interesting to see how these ideas & technologies make their way into the various bureaucracies in the government. Imagine the FDA, SEC, IRS, Dept. of Transportation and other government agencies adopting the latest philosophies & technologies to be citizen empowered & technology efficient. Could be just as radical a change as the policies coming out of an Obama whitehouse.

  • drootzler

    Holy 404, Obatman! So much for a smooth transition: your deep links are now broken.

  • http://www.metagovernment.org Ed

    Antonio:
    > It’s the (future) engine for Metagovernment.org

    The Metagovernment project wouldn’t mind a plug from Obama, but at our heart we are somewhat inconsistent with a Web 2.0 presidency.

    While it is wonderful that Obama wants to take input from the people, Metagovernment is working toward a future where there is *no* single leader in control.

    Why have one person make the final decisions, and the rest of us just get to beg and plead with him? Web 2.0 technologies show us that we can have successful community governance from the community itself.

    But of course, Metascore (though it is still very early alpha) is being developed as open source, so Obama is quite welcome to use/adapt it. I simply doubt he’s going to put it in charge of the U.S. government. (Nor do we expect it to be at that level for quite some time: we intend to start very small and gradually scale up.)

    P.S. That said, you and everyone else is quite welcome to contribute to the project: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Participate

  • Paul

    I think the obama team has done a great job taking technology to government – I think there is no reason why they should not bring new technologies to the front, vs. back channels that have been the de facto option since blogging and other social media tools made their appearance in politics. Now the white house can be more proactive about the information we receive and hopefully as a result we will get better and more timely news.

    I also agree with the points above re: technology sourcing for the government. As someone who worked in tech outsourcing for government, I am happy to see they are addressing the bloat of govt tech. there is a lot of money that can be saved by doing it short and sharp instead of the 2-3 year projects with 80 million sign-offs and ‘official’ documents…

  • http://www.PlugAndSpin.com Article Spinning

    No doubts about it, things are surely going to CHANGE with Obama as the president. So, yes, the campaign had been right all along about CHANGE. I can’t wait to see America turn around in the coming months (or perhaps weeks, -wishful thinking-) he he he.

  • http://webtechman.com Daniel Hudson

    President Obama and his team are doing a great job using a solid web strategy to connect with the people. I have been involved with the web for years, helping people, businesses, & non-profit organizations develop their web strategy to take advantage of web technology to achieve their goals. I work with teams building Enterprise 2.0 Platforms (Social Media in the business environment) and individuals to help them stay in touch with their families. The most exciting part of Government 2.0 is the obvious participation by the people. People are using the web differently now and have several channels available to get their voice heard. The fact that 1,000s upon 1,000s of comments were submitted to change.gov in just a short period in time proves that people want to be heard and understand these new web 2.0 tools and eagerly use them.

    Have you seen http://twitter.com/BarackObama ?
    This is a simple micro blogging site with over 140,000 followers while following over 150,000 other micro bloggers. Micro blogging is a communication channel for quick, short messages.

    Government 2.0 is in it’s infant stage and it needs to learn how to walk before it can run.

    The part I’m most excited about is how people are using technology and with the advances in mobile technology how we can connect the nation and the world.

    I’m looking forward to these next 4 years and I urge you to find mentors & be a mentor.

    Daniel Hudson
    Social Media Strategy

  • http://gnrfan.org Antonio Ognio

    Ed:

    Yes, I took some time to read thru’ the Metagoverment / Metascore wiki and yes, I know that it’s theoretically intended to replace the current forms of representative democracies we have in so many countries.

    My point is there’s more to extracting value from massive people participation in online discussion spaces than allowing comments or having users vote on questions.

    Voting on good proposals in order to raise them to the attention of the current political leaders would be a good start. Voting on other people’s comments would get some quantitive measure of agreement too. Bringing the most popular voices to the attention of the mass also helps streamline the best ideas and all of this is mentioned in the Metagovernment / Metascore plans so that’s why I mentioned it.

  • http://www.metagovernment.org Ed

    Thanks, Antonio. The mention is appreciated, and I agree that simply taking feedback from the public is not much of a change. After all, 200 years ago, people could write a letter to the president… how is allowing them to post a message electronically fundamentally any different?

    For what it is worth, the Metagovernment project (a very global and cross-border project) maintains a list of national projects, many of which have more-developed software than us:
    http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Related_projects

    That said, I appreciate that you recognize the hopefully superior scoring model we are trying for in Metascore (and a somewhat similar model is being used in DemocracyLab and perhaps Votorola). Instead of just having rule-by-the-51%-majority, we are trying to build a much more sophisticated model which can actively build large-scale consensus. Our notion of “synthesis scoring” works to actively bring the best solutions to the fore.

    P.S. And to be clear, we are attempting to replace representative democracies of every kind, not just governments. Chess clubs, condo boards, charity leadership, etc. are all governed by representative democracy and could be, we believe, better served by community-based governance.

  • http://www.davistudio.com Mary Anne Davis

    I saw Obama’s team had done this shortly after the inauguration and I was blown away. After his swift executive orders today focusing on transparency, the constitution and the abrubt curtailing of lobbyists reach, it feels like there is new sheriff in town. His administration may end up setting a new standard for web 2.0. Certainly for the USA 2.0. :)

  • PD

    Too bad the site still contains petty Bush-bashing. The Obama team, much vaunted for their supposed openness and transparency, remains mired in their small-minded and narrow full-on campaign mode. Talk about ungracious winners.

    The Bush team went well out of its way to make the transition smooth for Obama’s team and this is what they get in return? I’m not impressed. This doesn’t belong on whitehouse.gov, and it’s certainly not presidential.

  • Carl

    Let’s be a little realistic. When the President gets a piece of legislation he has limited time to deal with it. What he can do before that is to publish the principles or concepts he wants in it in hopes we the citizens let our representatives know how we feel and hope that overcomes lobbyist and special interest groups. Once legislation gets to his desk his ability to revise or alter it is almost nil.

    We just went through the “signing statement” drill with some heartburn. Do we want that to continue?

    His options are to sign or veto. Well thought out and present comments may be helpful in supporting a decision to veto or sign. What is not needed is line after line of ideological diatribe from either side of the issue.

  • http://www.delovesto.com Tony

    I love the new Whitehouse.gov web site and I am sure that the new President is keen to be more in touch with the people than any president before him.

    I think he will be continually making sure that the common people know and understand what is going on, and will be feeding information out to them, hopefully inspiring them to help each other and to help the country get back on it’s feet.

    I have high hopes for this administration, and with the country behind him, it’s possible he could be the gretest president yet.

  • http://webtechman.com Daniel Hudson

    I just noticed this article coming up on Digg.
    http://digg.com/news/technology/upcoming/most
    Nice to see good content.

  • Rob

    Since President Obama said he wants ideas on how to resolve our economy he encouraged us American citizens to send him ideas on how to accomplish this.

    Here’s the problem with that goofy idea? How exactly are we going to E-mail the president when he doesn’t have a usable E-mail address?

    Sure you can go the the Whitehouse website and fill out some goofy web form that limits your wordage. Which isn’t big enough to address our economical solutions!!!!

    This just PROVES Presidents Obama is lying and that he DOESN’T value our input, Or are solutions

  • theresa reuter

    where is the site to simply express, to our president, concerns on any issue, whether it’s the one being addressed by the media, or government, on any given day, or not. What looms large in my spirit, my mind, is the U.S.gathering our troops,commiting continued invasion of Afganistan. That innocent civilians; babies, children, youths, young adults, parents, grandparents, in short, sacred citizens of this global village, are being killed while the U.S. hunts down those known?, or suspected of being real threats to our country. This bodes ill will between global brothers, and sisters. Please, if you’re on board for the change Barak Obama promised, share this with him. Peace

  • Pastor Val R. Krehbiel

    I’m a well known problem solver, so let me suggest a few things given a few higher profile current problems. 1. Pirates can be held at bay if we employ a few simple tactics. Shippers will need to employ scouts who can spot small faster boats attempting to come along side of the larger ships. We have the technology to provide a device (drone, remotely controlled) once deployed that could threaten smaller craft regardless of their speed. Such a device could be completely unmanned, and easily used as a blockade between the smaller ship and the larger ship. It could also be used to disable the smaller craft.

    2. Development of very small nuclear reactors of limited size could be used to help solve the world energy crisis. This needs to be on the table.

    3. The solution to our modern Drug war can only be solved by legalizing drugs. Don’t get me wrong, but the only humane way that this problem can be solved, is that we buy drugs from those who grow them, in Afghanistan, or Columbia. The price will be low enough, that those who move drugs illegally will go broke. We simply set up a system where people who can prove that they have a drug problem will be given drugs at a diminishing rate for a modest fee at any doctor’s office or hospital. Once the money moves out of the picture, so will the violence. Drug users will get their drugs if they are willing to get a doctors approval. It’s not perfect, but it has worked reasonably well with Alcohol bootlegging in the 30′s, and with drugs in countries like Denmark. We can do better than they do. We can make sure that the patience gets less addictive drugs with each prescription filled.

    Soon I will put together some ideas involving Africa and its current struggles.

    Thanks for listening,
    Pastor Val R. Krehbiel

  • JAC

    Well, just like our current administration, it’s always a challenge for them to get their facts straight – correct, correct, correct, lie, lie, lie. Free speech? I’m not surprised you cesure also comments that reflect the dissatisfaction of many American citizens who are equal to you. It’s what we can count on for the next 4 years.

    Thanks a lot.