It was like someone threw on a switch at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 20. That was the moment www.whitehouse.gov flipped from being George W. Bush’s Web site to Obama’s site. The face-lift was noticeable. The new web design and layout is sleeker and less cluttered than many other government Web sites. The navigation, with drop-down menus at the top, is intuitive and user-friendly.
The new Web site seems to be a first step in one of Obama’s promises to the nation — more transparency in government. Just as new media was used during the campaign, it is being carried over to the new site.
The weekly address (now aptly called “Your Weekly Address”) used to be played on radio stations each Saturday morning. The Obama team has updated it so that it is now a weekly video address. It can be easily accessed on the official Web site, on YouTube, or on Twitter.
Another goal of the administration is also to foster more interactivity between citizens and government. This is where the new White House blog comes into play. Visitors can subscribe to a feed and get real time updates as soon as they are posted.
Noticeably missing from the blog, however, is a comment function where visitors can chime in with their thoughts. Without allowing public response, the blog feels more like a news wire. But we’ll give the blog the benefit of a doubt as it is still in its early stages.
Our biggest concern so far is accessibility. The site is only available comprehensively in English. There is a Spanish-language version, but at the moment, it is bare bones, with only a few pages translated.
Additionally, what about those who aren’t Internet savvy? Will they be missing out?
Though Internet usage may seem prevalent, only 55 percent of all homes have high-speed Internet access according to a 2008 survey conducted by Pew Internet. There could be a significant part of the population that is not accessing this information, especially in large immigrant groups such as Asians and Latinos.
So what can be done?
There is a certain responsibility in the Obama administration to provide their Web site pages in more languages, not only for the sake of non-English-fluent citizens, but also for the rest of the world’s population, who would have the opportunity to learn more about our government direct from the source. Since it’s all Web-based, printing costs are minimal.
And as many have pointed out, as long as the Obama administration continues to pursue traditional avenues of communication along with new media, no one should be missing out. After all, his message is the same on the radio, TV, and newspaper as it is on YouTube.
There is also a responsibility in our community to become more “wired.” Surprisingly, we are behind many nations in Internet usage. A 2007-2008 report the Center for the Digital Future says that our Internet usage among youths trails behind Czech Republic, Israel, Canada, Macao, and Britain. Among adults, we trail even more.
No more excuses. Audrey Stubbart was an American proofreader and newspaper columnist for The Independence Examiner in Missouri. She was an Internet-user up to her death in 2000 at the age of 105.