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White House blog and site get off to a bad start

January 23, 2009 |  2:02 pm

the White house blog isn't really updating much

As a longtime blogger and now blog editor of the Los Angeles Times, I was downright giddy at the idea of an official White House blog at whitehouse.gov. But it looks as if this administration is showing the signs of being just as human as the rest of us -- namely a lack of blog posts.

As with getting a new puppy, many new bloggers abandon their new toys within months, if not days, of creating them. Look around the blogosphere and you will see tens of millions of blogs with just a few posts or blogs that were never updated again. Although no one thinks that this will be the case for the Barack Obama administration, it is disappointing that the blog wasn't updated at all yesterday (despite blogable news such as the president committing to close Guantanamo Bay Prison), and that Wednesday its only post was a cut-and-paste of Tuesday's inauguration speech.

University of Toledo College of Law Professor Howard Friedman agrees:

For an administration that has made so much of both transparency and technology, to date the Obama staff has earned an extremely low grade on content and timeliness of the new White House website. The Bush White House quickly posted Presidential statements and remarks, news items regarding the President's activities, bill signings, and the like. It also posted transcripts of daily press briefings. The Obama White House website, at least so far, has little of this.

Much of the website contains fairly static material. The "Briefing Room" section is apparently intended as the repository for current developments. Presumably Obama's section captioned "The Blog" is intended to be the replacement for daily news postings from the Bush White House. However, as of Thursday afternoon the latest Blog posting was Obama's Inaugural Address. The media have chronicled a number of newsworthy events occupying the President on Wednesday and Thursday. One might have at least expected some mention online of the second "swearing-in" of President Obama.

Like the Bush website, Obama's has sections for the text of Executive Orders and Proclamations. One would have hoped that the important Executive Orders relating to the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility would have been posted immediately upon their issuance. As of Thursday afternoon, they had not appeared.

The White House's director of new media, Macon Phillips, is probably partially to blame. Although he identified himself on the "first" post (I use quotes because although Phillips claims it is the premiere post, it is actually the third on the blog's list of posts), none of the other posts on the blog credit an author (not really transparency we can believe in). Thus the reader is forced to assume that Phillips is the only current blogger.

The problem with Phillips possibly being the only (or main) blogger of what could easily be the most popular new blog of 2009 is that he himself doesn't seem to have embraced truly social media. His Twitter account is locked (and he follows only a few dozen people), his public Facebook result has no photo or information, and he published only one post on his "my" page on BarackObama.com. Phillips does seem to have a small presence on LinkedIn, however. So should we be surprised that there's a dearth of new content on the First Blog?

Meanwhile, CNET recently complained that the White House is being fishy about the cookies that it stores in the computers of viewers who watch its YouTube videos. Yesterday CNET's Chris Soghoian complained that the White House was going against its own privacy policy (and federal rules) by utilizing "persistent cookies" via YouTube.

Today Soghoian has a follow-up post saying that the administration has seemingly corrected the issue:

Just 12 hours after this blog highlighted the privacy problems associated with the White House's use of embedded YouTube videos, the Obama team rushed to deploy a technical fix that significantly protects the privacy of many (but not all) of the site's visitors.

This just in: The White House blog just posted (2:33 p.m. EST) this item about President Obama's recent executive orders -- including the historic one about the closing of Gitmo.

Let's hope this trend of actually posting to the blog, and fixing problems with the site, continues.

-- Tony Pierce

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