President Barack Obama and his administration are keeping up his image as a tech-savvy president by establishing a presence on a variety of social networking sites.
The White House, over the course of late last week and this weekend, joined Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, putting out information about the president's plans to block business tax havens and improve rural health care, along with information about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
"The White House has leaped into social networking with both feet, with pages on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace," said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "This is fulfilling one goal by giving the White House an unfiltered communications channel to the public at large. Each of the pages is chock-full of policy positions, media releases and general Obama news."
What seems to be lacking, according to Olds, is any thoughtful dialogue on those sites.
"The most prevalent comments on the MySpace page are one-line pleas to legalize pot," he noted. "Comments on Facebook range from complimentary to almost worshipful. While this must be nice to hear, you have to wonder if these pages are helping the Obama White House reach the public at large, or if this is mainly preaching to the choir."
The White House might get more in-depth discussions going online if it not only posts information but asks questions, Olds noted. And people need to know if anyone in the administration is monitoring these discussions and taking note of people's opinions. If not, then what's the point? But if the White House is paying attention, then people will have more inclination to put the time into making their opinions known.
The Web 2.0 administration should come as no surprise to those who have been following Obama's path to the White House and the technology he has used to help him get there.
During his campaign for president, Obama, who fought to keep his BlackBerry while in office, seemingly showed other politicians what it means to harness the power of the Web. The then-senator went beyond the somewhat static Web pages of most past campaigns and tapped the power of Web 2.0 tools, including Facebook, YouTube, blogs and discussion boards, to engage in a conversation with potential voters.
And on inauguration day, a major overhaul of WhiteHouse.gov was launched as the president was being sworn in. At noon that day, the president's official Web site appeared online with a new design that focused not just on the new administration but on new media. For example, it has a feature called The Briefing Room, where users can go to read the latest White House blog posts and even sign up for e-mail news updates.
And then, in late March, Obama gave everyday citizens, not just journalists, the opportunity to ask him questions during an online town hall meeting. The Web 2.0 experiment drew 92,928 users who submitted 104,111 questions and cast 3,606,658 votes for queries they wanted answered.