Touring the new Whitehouse.gov.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Jan. 20 2009 3:54 PM

I Do Solemnly Swear That I Will Blog Regularly

Touring the new Whitehouse.gov.

See all of Slate's inauguration coverage.

Whitehouse website. Click image to expand.

When I logged on to the White House Web site about an hour before the inauguration, George W. Bush was already gone. He'd been replaced by an error message that popped up while, I imagine, the Young Turks on Obama's Web team flipped over the site. I kept hitting refresh, and just after noon, before the new president even took the oath, Barack Obama popped up online. The new White House Web site leads with a smiling photo and the headline, "Change Has Come to America." Click the photo and you're taken to the site's leading element—the White House Blog.

I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that Obama, who gained so much from online social networks during the campaign, is greeting the Internet with a blog post. Still, it's a dramatic transition from the last White House site—indeed, from every White House site ever, not to mention most government sites—which took a formal, we'll-tell-you-what's-going-on tone on its front page. At its close, the Bush site was mainly a mess of links to press releases, speeches, and propaganda documents. (One of its leading sections was titled "Setting the Record Straight.")

Advertisement

The Obama site is leaner—understandably, the administration being just a few hours old—but also promises more interactivity. In the first blog post, Macon Phillips, Obama's White House director of new media, reaffirms a campaign promise—that the White House will post all nonemergency legislation to the site for five days and review all the comments that come in before the president signs or vetoes the bill. Wisely, the first blog post allows no comments—if it had, we'd have seen a mob of wiseasses posting "First!!!!" At the moment, the only way to send a note to the White House is to use this contact form.

After the election, many wondered how Obama would transform his campaign's online network into a force for pushing his policy goals. As far as I can tell, the White House Web site is not—or not yet—a social network. You can't build a profile, connect with friends, and start groups to advocate for certain positions—the functions that allowed millions of supporters to take part in his campaign. What you can do is give the site your e-mail address and ZIP code. When I did so, I got a pop-up message thanking me for my submission, and that was that. I hope they don't spam me.

The site is not without its bugs, either: A flashy slide show of past presidents fails to include anyone past Gerald Ford. In addition, the Web masters were so thorough in their attempts to erase the old site that they broke many legitimate pages. For instance, when you Google George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, or any other past president, you get now-broken links to their bios on the White House site.

On television this morning, many of the anchors were reveling in the majesty of America's "peaceful handover of power." The handover online, though, is far less civil and carries no pomp. It's violently abrupt: All of a sudden, there's a new president—and the old one vanishes.

To test out the new site's search engine, I typed in "Bush." I got back just four pages dedicated to the clan—one bio each for Barbara Bush, George H.W. Bush, Laura Bush, and George W. Bush. That last page recounts the 43rd president's achievements in just a few short paragraphs—it says nothing about Iraq, Katrina, Gitmo, Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales, or anything else you might've lost sleep over these past eight years. It's almost like none of it ever happened.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 4:33 PM Walmart Is Killing the Rest of Corporate America in Solar Power Adoption
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.