This is an article from the Washington Post. I like it because it matches the transition of internet use by Presidencies in the US with the general development of the Internet, and how this has changed people’s social behaviours and expectations.
e-Hail To the Chief
Obama Won With Web’s Help. Now, How to Govern Using That Community?
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 31, 2008; C01
“Fired up, ready to go — that was the campaign slogan,” says a beaming Ernest E. Johnson on a recent Saturday. A real estate agent and longtime Washington activist, the 60-year-old worked the streets and the Internet, networking and organizing to make sure Barack Obama got elected president.
“Well, people are still fired up and ready to go,” he continues. “What’s next?”
Therein lies the challenge for the Obama White House. His online team might have written the playbook on leveraging the Internet to campaign victory, building a grassroots network on My.BarackObama.com, amassing a record amount of online donations and collecting an e-mail list of more than 13 million addresses, by far the biggest in Washington.
Like Johnson, many of those people aren’t going away. A survey released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 51 percent of online Obama supporters expect to get e-mail, text messages or other communications from the new administration.
But how will all that online energy be channeled from campaigning into governing?
With some notable exceptions, federal Washington — how agencies deal with citizens, the process in which policies and laws are created — is stuck in the Encyclopaedia Britannica era. A relatively small group of editors and contributors is in charge. A growing portion of the country, however — the Web-enabled set that swears by MySpace and YouTube (and note the emphasis on “My” and “You”) — lives by the wisdom-of-the-crowd, I-have-something-to-contribute ethos of Wikipedia. In the same way that anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, not only will Web-acculturated citizens speak their minds, but they also won’t ask anyone’s permission to do so.
It has been only a decade since an American president first used the Internet. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration created WhiteHouse.gov and ordered all federal agencies to get online. For the first time, the government used the Web to describe what it was doing in its own terms, bypassing media middlemen. George W. Bush’s two terms brought podcasting, online chats and videos to the presidency’s online presence.
“Clinton was the first Web president. Bush is the first digital president,” says David Almacy, who served as Bush’s Internet director from 2005 to 2007. “Obama is the first online social networking president.”
And online social networking is designed to foster a community. For that approach to be effective, WhiteHouse.gov can’t just push information out — it has to pull content in, too. And once it does so, the administration will have to decide whether, when and how to incorporate those voices into its decision-making process.
* * *
On Change.gov, a transition Web site launched two days after Obama won, a constant stream of information is doled out. You can watch YouTube videos of transition staffers. You can track meetings between the transition team and outside groups, which provide searchable documents online (and allow visitors to leave comments for the team). You can post questions in the “Open for Questions” feature, where submitted questions are voted to the top by other users. In its first week, the feature got 978,868 votes on 10,302 questions from 20,468 people.
The transition team’s Internet department — which include Macon Phillips, a veteran of Obama’s online team, and Jesse Lee, who formerly worked for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee as an online adviser — won’t reveal exactly how many people have signed up on Change.gov. But they’ve been amazed by the number of people who’ve used it. More than 290,000 résumés, for example, were sent to the site.
Staff members are responding to the feedback, albeit in a formal, official tone, compared with the conversational vibe of the campaign site. Answering a question on the ban on stem cell research — one of the most voted-on questions — Phillips’s team wrote: “President-elect Obama is a strong supporter of Federal funding for responsible stem cell research and he has pledged to reverse President Bush’s restrictions.”
Using Change.gov, Tom Daschle, Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is trying to mobilize people in support of health care reform. This month, the former senator invited people to submit their input online. About 3,500 comments poured in. In a video message, he then asked people to host group meetings in the coming weeks — at their homes, in coffee shops — and pass along the group’s input. “We want people to share with us what ideas they have that might improve the system from their own experiences,” Daschle says in the video.
But this being the Internet, not everything on Change.gov goes according to plan. The day after it was announced that the Rev. Rick Warren will deliver the opening prayers at Obama’s inauguration, for example, a discussion forum focused on community service was instead filled with pages of comments from people opposing Obama’s choice. Warren, a conservative evangelical pastor in Orange County, Calif., backed a successful state initiative banning same-sex marriage.
“Over and over, I’ve seen the kind of spiritual damage done by religious leaders, like Warren, who use their pulpits to verbally beat up gay people,” one commentator wrote. Added another: “I wonder if Obama, who is black, would support someone coming to his inauguration and telling everyone that black and white people should not marry?”
The comments are still up on the site.
“This is a part of our Internet culture, and it’s an emerging part of our political culture — you, as a citizen, get to talk back to your government,” says Google chief Eric Schmidt, who is also an Obama adviser. “I’m a child of the broadcast TV world. Aside from voting and watching TV and maybe joining a letter-writing campaign, what actual impact could I have on a specific policy? But the new set of tools online allow the government to open itself up and post a series of questions to its citizens. What should we do with health care? By asking that question, not only does the government become more porous, there becomes a much more dynamic dialogue between the government and its citizens. Change.gov offers hints as to how this works. We’ll see if it transfers to WhiteHouse.gov.”
Adds Al Gore, a senior adviser to Google: “This Internet revolution is still in its infancy, and its effects won’t all be positive, of course. The fact is, we’re all still trying to figure it out.”
* * *
Nothing typifies the disconnect between Capitol Hill and the Web more than the franking rules, which were established when lawmakers communicated with their constituents solely through snail mail. Until the archaic rules were revised this fall, legislators using their official congressional sites were prohibited from linking to YouTube and other commercial sites. (But many did it anyway. Even Pelosi, who has a YouTube channel and a blog called The Gavel, was violating the rules.)
Aided by Karina Newton, her director of new media, Pelosi has been telling committee chairmen since the beginning of 2007 that they needed to webcast committee meetings. In the summer of 2007, 11 House committees did. A year later, nine more followed suit. The upgrade isn’t limited to Democrats. Republicans such as Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina have been early Web adapters. Their aim is to talk directly with their constituents.
But Internet-centered groups such as the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation — which includes Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia on its board — say legislators can do much more to increase transparency, especially when it comes to disclosing online which lobbying groups they’re meeting with and what earmarks they’re requesting. At the height of the $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial system in late September, Sunlight started an online petition calling for all legislation to be posted online for a minimum of 72 hours before a vote. According to Sunlight, some 10,000 signed the petition within a few days.
“Every single day a member gets a printed-out version of his or her schedule. Why can’t they put that up online? They know the list of earmarks they’ve submitted to their committee chairmen. Why can’t they put that up online? The answer to ‘Why can’t they put that up?’ is ‘It’s more information than they need to know.’ I’ve had senior members of Congress use those exact words to me,” says Ellen Miller, who co-founded Sunlight in 2006.
Adds Andrew Rasiej, an adviser to Sunlight and the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, which chronicles the intersection of technology and politics: “Most members of Congress don’t know the difference between a server and a waiter. But they’re getting better. They have young staffers who live in the YouTube world. They’ve seen how Obama used the Web. They’re waking up to this new reality.”
For Rasiej, Obama can serve as a model in how to use technology for governing. A lot is riding on exactly what kind of power Obama’s chief technology officer — a newly created position — will have. And where that position fits within the Obama administration. Julius Genachowski, a friend of Obama’s since law school and the campaign’s chief technology officer, is considered the front-runner for the job.
“For example, if that person is in the White House at a Cabinet level, expect more transparency, a more Web 2.0 WhiteHouse.gov. But if they put that person in the OMB” — the Office of Management and Budget — “it will be like putting the chief locomotive engineer in 1860 at a desk at the horse trading association,” Rasiej says. “Every issue group is looking for a czar — an energy czar, a drug czar — but this is different because technology is not a slice of the pie, it’s the pan.”
* * *
A month after winning the White House, David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, sent a message to Obama’s campaign e-mail list of 13 million.
“Now it’s time to start preparing and working for change in our communities,” the e-mail read, urging supporters to host house meetings on Dec. 13 and 14. The purpose, Plouffe instructed, was twofold: to reflect on what was accomplished during the campaign, and to plan for the future. Hosts were sent guidelines and DVDs to facilitate the meetings. They also were asked to report back to Plouffe.
About 4,200 house meetings were organized in 2,000 cities and towns. Within 150 miles of Washington, more than 330 were listed, many of them with specific agendas. A meeting at a theater in Oxon Hill focused on getting teenage mothers off drugs and alcohol. A meeting at a home in McLean dealt with Obama’s policy toward India.
And a meeting at a community center near Catholic University in Northeast Washington concentrated on D.C.’s lack of voting representation on the Hill. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s representative in Congress, cannot vote on the House floor.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, one of the 19 people seated at a long, rectangular wooden table is Ernest E. Johnson, the community activist who’s anxious about what happens next to Obama’s online network. Though he doesn’t work for the campaign, his e-mails are signed, “Ernest E. Johnson, Obama for America.” He was “born, buttered and bred” in the city, as he likes to say, and the two issues he cares about most are health care reform and D.C.’s voting rights.
“Health care must be affordable to all,” says Johnson, shifting in his seat. “Residents in the nation’s capital must have a vote.”
The meeting’s host, Ron Magnus, a 46-year-old lawyer, nods. He stands in the front of the room, jotting notes on a poster with a red marker, listing the issues that matter to everyone in the room.
Marisa Lengor, a 26-year-old grad student at George Mason University, raises her hand.
“How about the state of D.C. public schools?” she asks. “Shouldn’t that be near the top of list, too?”
The list keeps getting longer. Voting rights. Health care. Clean energy. Public schools. Homelessness.
“This is what happens when people are fired up,” Johnson says later, as he rushes out the door. This is the first of four house meetings he plans to attend today. “No stopping it now.”
As it happens, Johnson has organized a health care forum at his church, Mount Rona Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia Heights, on the Saturday before Obama’s inauguration. He’s started handing out fliers and posted a notice of the meeting online.