Home The White House and Web 2.0: Reality Sets In

The White House and Web 2.0: Reality Sets In

The Center for American Progress, a liberal policy and advocacy group, just released an interesting memo (PDF) about the White House’s use of Web 2.0. There can be little doubt that the Obama campaign skillfully used the Internet to raise funds and create and manage a grassroots organization that, in the end, carried them to the White House. Now, however, a lot of us have grown a bit restless, looking at how slowly the White House is adopting Web 2.0 tools like social networks and blogs, especially when compared to the Obama campaign. This memo, however, puts things into perspective. While the campaign team dedicated over 170 staffers to new media, the White House New Media team has fewer than 10 full-time employees.

From 170 Staffers to 10 Full-Time Employees

The author of the memo, Peter P. Swire, who was also the attorney for the New Media team during the Obama-Biden transition, argues that the transition from a campaign to the White House is not just a transition to fewer staff members, but also a transition from having to scale from 10 million motivated supporters to 300 million Americans. While it would be great if the White House could respond to every comment on a blog individually, it would be hard to scale this with just a handful of people running whitehouse.gov (and, because this is Washington, there is already a White House Correspondence Office that is officially charged with answering letters and calls from citizens).

From Talking Points to Policy

In addition, responses now also have to be ‘cleared,’ that is, vetted by all the relevant agencies. As Swire points out, it was easy to ask a North Korea expert about what to say about a developing situation in North Korea during the campaign and to use that expert’s opinion as a talking point, but now, White House bloggers don’t just speak for the campaign, but for America, and a talking point could have real, potentially dangerous consequences. Now, the White House team has to get clearance to post about pretty much any topic.


Swire also talks about the White House’s extensive use of video. Thanks to using YouTube and other vendors, scale is not an obstacle for the New Media team, and thanks to the fact that these videos tend to be short, it is relatively easy to get clearance for these videos.

The Purple Folder

According to Swire, President Obama receives a purple folder every night, with 10 letters, faxes, or emails from the general public that are “broadly representative of the day’s news and issues.”  However, while it is nice that the President would read these letters, maybe it would also be nice if he read a couple of blog posts from representative political blogs every day as well (of course, we don’t actually know that he doesn’t do that already anyway).

It’s All About Scale

The one recurring motif in this memo is that it is hard for the White House to scale its operation in order to really engage the public, and that politics obviously often get in the way. It obviously also doesn’t help that the White House staff can’t rely on the hundreds of volunteers that the Obama campaign was able to recruit at a moment’s notice, as that would open up a whole other range of political issues.

Thanks to the Resource Shelf for pointing us to this memo.

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