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House Republicans Relaunch

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, May 15 2012

House Speaker John A. Boehner's office on Tuesday pulled the wraps off of the Speaker's overhauled web site just in time for a major policy speech about House Republicans' stance on any debt limit negotiations in the coming year.

The new site is clearly meant to amplify House Republicans' legislative agenda among grassroots supporters by making its frequently-updated blog the focal point of the Speaker's front page, and encouraging readers to share posts on their social networks. The digital team is also hoping that the office's use of DISQUS for comments will encourage more discussion, since many people already are logged into the system and won't have to log in again to the Speaker's site to post their thoughts.

Live video of House events and the Speaker's speeches will also become a more systematic occurrence with the integration of Ustream in the site, rather than occasional one-offs, said the Speaker's digital communications director, Don Seymour, in an interview.

The site is also meant to be more accessible on more devices, Seymour said. Twenty percent of the site's traffic arrives through mobile devices, he said, so the site is now optimized for viewing on those mobile devices.

The other major change is that the site's gone from relying on a vendor-supplied proprietary platform to the open-source content management system Drupal — a move that many House members are making, Seymour noted. As of January 2011, the House started providing each incoming freshman member of Congress access to the Drupal platform, which they are free to customize, he said.

"We wanted to move to a more flexible, open-source, low cost platform," he said.

A glance at the social media tracking site Topsy shows that the transcript of the Speaker's debt limit speech didn't seem to make much of a splash on Twitter on Tuesday. Yet as The New York Times noted last October, the GOP is intently focused on social media and its effective use as a strategic communications tool to counter the White House.

Asked if House Democrats would have access to the code if they won control of the chamber in November, Salley Wood, a spokesperson for the House Committee on Administration, responded: "While incoming House committee chairs have the option of taking over the main (majority’s) site or restructuring their own, House leadership offices generally take over the appropriate URLs and restructure their sites to conform with new leadership assignments."

This post has been updated.