Monday, November 10, 2008

Is such a big change?

Obama's transition website,, launched last week only 24 hours after he was declared President-Elect. Compared to the Obama campaign's tidal wave of PR, the launch of was fairly low profile. I've received hundreds of emails during the course of the Obama campaign announcing every twist and turn, but didn't hear anything about from the campaign itself.

Nonetheless, it has made headlines for the openness and innovation it brings to the transition period. At the very least, it is an impressive feat and a hopeful sign for the future of the administration that the website was available so quickly after the campaign ended (even if it did require some hasty editing in the first few days).

Now that it's available and we've all had time to peruse through the content, we can start to decide if is something more than the standard press releases and boilerplate repackaged as a website (admittedly, a nice looking one).

My initial reaction? It doesn't offer anything new...yet.

The front page is populated with press releases - no surprise and no letdown there. But what is more disappointing is that the "blog" link takes you to a listing of those exact same press releases (duplicated again on the "Newsroom" link). As anyone who has read a blog can tell you, this isn't it, and considering that the campaign used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and text messages, we know that they can do better.

The "Learn" and "Agenda" pages are equally disappointing. They provide some mildly worthwhile content, but nothing new to anyone who has been following the campaign or the news - and certainly nothing that could be called innovative.

The one page that sounds promising is "American Moment" which includes an invitation to share your story or your vision. Unfortunately, these pages are merely forms where you can type in your experience or your hopes for the administration and send them off to...well, that's not clear. What is clear is that there is no opportunity to read others' stories or visions, and no opportunity to discuss or learn from one another. In short, there is no community.

Admittedly, it would not be easy to create these features. It doesn't take long before a new web community is swarmed with commenters who lower, rather than raise, the level of discussion. Even websites that cater to a particular partisan view suffer from flame wars and intentional baiting. But these are problems that the Obama team will have to solve in order to deliver on its promise of a more open administration that invites participation.

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