Update Post: The Wiki White House Web – Sorry, Dan
Disclosure/side note: I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present on a topic with a member of the White House Digital Engagement team on September 19, 2014. It got me thinking. I’ve had this blog for some time, so from time to time, I go back and read what I’ve written, predicated or been a blowhard about to see if my predictions came true. Some did, while others crashed and burned. And being AT the White House with the digital team reminded me that I had written a post about the likelihood of a “digital presidency.”
In my 4th most popular post ever, “Reality Check: There Will Be No Wiki White House, Dan” from December 1, 2008, I got cranky when Dan Froomkin, writing for the Huffington Post (and who apparently really, really hates George W. Bush), made several predictions about what an Obama administration White House web site would look like. I doubted and probably even mocked most of his predictions. While probably much of what I wrote was in reaction to his snark about the “stodgy, wheezing version of whitehouse.gov” of the Bush administration (I had friends who helped build and maintain that site), guess what?
I was wrong. About just about everything.
No one every goes back and slams a weatherman for being wrong. Sports prognosticators, unless they are engaged in
gambling rackets gentleman’s wagering clubs, rarely get their feet held to the fire (literally) for their erroneous predictions. But the Internet is forever, and if I go out and criticize someone’s predictions, I should be able to stand up to scrutiny six years later. So here’s a quick synopsis of what Dan predicted, what I responded with, and what the currently reality is now. It’s a score card, and it’s not pretty.
White House blogs:
What Dan predicted: “Imagine a White House Web site where staffers maintain blogs in which they write about who they are and what they are working on.”
My response: “White house staffers may, in fact, be allowed to have their own blogs, but they will be so watered down by legal concerns that I fear that they might turn into a Twitter feed: ‘Just went out for coffee. Tastes burnt.’ In a town where secrets are coveted but leaks like a sieve, there would be little compelling news to keep a blog fresh, but more importantly, interesting. The lawyers will do what they do, which is lawyer things to death.”
The score: Dan 1, Mark 0. Proof point: check out the White House blog section, authored by White House staffers, covering a wide variety of topics. And it’s not someone ghost writing for Obama; it’s the staffers themselves giving their takes.
Streamed (video) meetings:
What Dan predicted: “…some meetings [will be] streamed in live video.”
My response: “Only the most vanilla meetings will be streamed. There is a reason why reporters are kicked out of the room when the real stuff happens. Anything else would be staged like a FEMA press conference.”
The score: Dan 2, Mark 0. The White House streams meetings here, and has done a fair amount of Google Hangouts, which, although heavily scripted, still count. So an online meeting is an online meeting.
What Dan predicted: …a WhiteHouse.gov on which “… the president’s daily calendar is posted online.”
My response: “The President’s Daily Calendar would have to omit outside appearances, which would gut its effectiveness, because of Secret Service prohibitions. And why tell the opposition party that you are meeting on something that you might want to keep in-house. To do otherwise would be stupid.”
The score: Dan 3, Mark 0. The President’s daily calendar is here, but it’s certainly not complete (again, probably for security reasons) – or I must have caught him on a really light day.
What Dan predicted: “And while that may sound impossible, organizations like Wikipedia provide one model for handling vast quantities of user-submitted content with great if not perfect success.”
My response: “Major policy proposal proposal workspaces? Too many cooks spoil the broth. Research Selogene Royale’s presidential campaign in France. She turned her Web site into an electronic “listening tour” and requested policy input from French voters. She ended up with a party platform that stretched from Normandy to Nice. This is good in principle, and lousy in practice.”
The score: Dan 4, Mark still zilch.
What Dan predicted a site on which “… progress towards campaign promises is tracked on a daily basis.”
My response: “Trust me, the Republicans will do that for them. And if they don’t keep a campaign promise, do you think the Web site will have a big, red “X” in the “We Didn’t Keep This” column?”
The score: Dan 4.5, Mark .5. While WhiteHouse.gov does an impressive job of touting President Obama’s accomplishments (why would it not?) NO political Web site EVER is going to detail broken campaign promises, like this newspaper does. (And yes, it just feels nice to put a .5 on the board).
What Dan predicted: “Because the Internet doesn’t look kindly on information that just flows one way. To live up to their promises, the president and his staff are going to have to do more than just talk — they’re going to have to listen, and respond.”
My response: Screw it. Let’s just say again that I was wrong. See below. Score: Dan 5.5, Mark .5, with two caveats. First, the Obama administration has had the good fortune (and wisdom) to take advantage of timing to become the first “digital administration.” I think that any political operation worth their weight in salt would have taken advantage of standing social media tools. Heck, even George W. Bush’s Facebook page has, at the time of this writing, 4,084,849 Likes. So had his administration served at a different time (or Hillary, or someone else), somebody would have stepped forward and developed a digital strategy that puts information where people already surf and are likely to see it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one area of the site that I bet even its inventors regret: the Petitions page. This section …”a new platform that gives all Americans a way to create and sign petitions on a range of issues affecting our nation. And if a petition gathers enough online signatures, it will be reviewed by policy experts and you’ll receive an official response.” And you get get this with just 5,000 signatures in 30 days.
Imagine the poor bastards who have to respond to every crackpot idea that gathers enough political steam – and then assign a group of people to respond to it? My guess is that this was a little bit TOO popular for its own good, because very quietly, the administration raised the amount of signatures required to trigger a White House response – to a whopping 100,000 signatures in the first 30 days. I bet I heard a sign if relief from the White House petition team. Go get some sleep, guys.
But back to the topic at hand.
I read a what I labeled a pretty much a snarky, dreamy-eyed HuffPo piece and essentially tore the predictions to shreds. Most the commenters on that post agreed me with as well. And as you’ll see from my own score card, I pretty much got my ass handed to me in the prediction department.
You were right, and I was wrong. I guess we DO have a Wiki White House.
Image credit: David Alexander via Flick Commons.