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White House Web FAIL?

BY Patrick Ruffini | Friday, January 23 2009

A couple of days ago, I reviewed the launch of the new WhiteHouse.gov. Today, nearly 72 hours after Barack Obama's inauguration, the only official documents of the Obama Administration online are his inaugural address and his executive orders. President Obama has had public events to swear in his staff, announce the closing of Gitmo, and name envoys to the Middle East. The photo office has release some pretty striking photos of Obama's first day in office to the press. None of this content is online at WhiteHouse.gov.

Much of the coverage has focused on the gee-whiz factors of the new site, including the blog, a YouTube channel, and the pledge (not delivered on yet) to post non-emergency legislation for public comment before the President signs it. At the same time, we can't forget that WhiteHouse.gov is the President's web site of record, and perhaps its most important purpose is to disseminate information about the President's day in a timely fashion. Here's how the Bush White House's news section was structured.

Beyond the IT glitches that will plague any White House in its first few days (though I'm not sure quite what the problem is posting documents from desktops equipped with Windows XP), the site doesn't seem to be structured to deal with the depth of content that a White House produces. All news content so far has been posted on a linear blog without comments -- when they get around to posting "Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Cuba" that probably isn't going to make the sexiest blog post. And without monthly archives, or paginating items 10 posts at a time, it's going to make it difficult to find content.

All photos are set up in a pretty but not very functional slideshow format that still refers to Barack Obama as the President-elect. None of the photos taken by the White House are there, and I can't easily grab photos in a size that would fit on a blog (as I should be encouraged to do, since all governmental works are not copyrighted). Here I'm waiting for the Flickr account or Flickr-like solution where you can view and download images in multiple sizes -- including the highest resolution. And if they released most of the dozens or hundreds of photos taken everyday -- instead of the half dozen or so that have traditionally been released -- that would be one of the most compelling aspects of the site day in, day out. Obama's campaign Flickr account had over 53,000 photos.

Things were never this bad during the campaign or transition, so I have to assume that the team is working with tools that are either inflexible or not ready for prime time. Still, a content management system and a Gmail account is all you need to send around transcripts and post them. So, the delays in publishing relevant information can't be explained by any of the technology gripes currently out there in the press.