This piece by David Cay Johnston was interesting to me: Who’s undercutting Obama? I’m not in a position to pass judgement on Obama’s press operation with regard to whether people answer the phone, get snippy when asked to spell their names, or assume they can unilaterally declare their comments off the record. But I do feel qualified to judge the changes to whitehouse.gov.
I know J.A.Y.S.O.N. thinks it’s a much better-designed website than it was under Bush, and since he knows a lot more about design than I do I’ll take that as a given. I’m more of a content guy. The thing that gets me excited in a website is content. Ridiculous amounts of content. Stacks of content. Reams of content. Browseable. Linkable.
For all Bush’s failings (at least a couple of which I seem to recall mentioning before), the White House website under Bush was a vast improvement over his predecessor’s. And from the perspective of content, Obama’s version of the site, at least so far, looks like a big step backward.
It’s not just that many thousands of pages went fwap! and disappeared overnight. That’s a serious issue (in light of the intent behind the Presidential Records Act, I’d think it might even be a legal issue, or at least ought to be, if and when the law catches up). But I can understand that requiring a new president to maintain the web content of his predecessor might be problematic, and would become moreso over time. But maybe the former site could have been transitioned to a permanent home at the Library of Congress, with the old URLs being redirected? Massive amounts of linkrot isn’t the sort of change I believe in.
(Update: Well, duh. It’s at the Bush Library: Welcome to the White House.)
Setting that aside, and judging the new site on its own merits, it just isn’t very good from a content standpoint. Yes, it has a some nice images and an actual “blog” that dares to speak its name, and the link farm at the bottom of every page has been helpful as I poke around. And yes, I know that Obama has been putting out videos on YouTube. But the press materials at whitehouse.gov are seriously lacking, which I assume is related to the press office problems that David Cay Johnston is griping about.
It looks like we’re getting briefing transcripts, which is nice. But the old site had transcripts and full audio files and full video streams of all news conferences and press briefings. I really liked that stuff. And lest you think I’m being all rich-media snobby, allow me to repeat: I’m a content guy from way back. I think putting out a ridiculous profusion of primary source material in every conceivable format and getting the fuck out of the way is, or should be, a web content creator’s first responsibility. And as much as it pains me to say it, at this point Team Obama’s geeks are getting their web-content asses handed to them by Team Bush. They’re thinking small, in an area where their small-minded predecessor thought big (or at least was oblivious enough that some geeky underling was able to think big on his behalf).
What’s up with that?