Obama Wiki White House?
Dan Froomkin proposes ideas for how the Obama White House can live up to Obama's pledge to be transparent and responsive to the American people; make whitehouse.gov include staffer blogging about policy issues and what they're working on, enable RSS feeds, twitter and email updates, and a way for the public to comment and interact, so the full range of debate on issues in the US can be documented.
Imagine a White House Web site where the home page isn’t just a static collection of transcripts and press releases, but a window into the roiling intellectual foment of the West Wing. Imagine a White House Web site where staffers maintain blogs in which they write about who they are and what they are working on; where some meetings are streamed in live video; where the president’s daily calendar is posted online; where major policy proposals have public collaborative workspaces, or wikis; where progress towards campaign promises is tracked on a daily basis; and where anyone can sign up for customized updates by e-mail, text message, RSS feed, Twitter, or the social network of their choice.
And that’s just for starters. Because the Internet doesn’t look kindly on information that just flows one way. To live up to their promises, the president and his staff are going to have to do more than just talk – they’re going to have to listen, and respond. So imagine a Web site where the president regularly answers questions sent in by citizens; where ordinary people can vote up or down items they want brought to the president’s attention; and where Americans from across the political spectrum engage in honest debate.
That last part, of course, is the most problematic. The virulence and low signal-to-noise ratio of unrestricted commenting on the Internet has been a source of despair to people who run far less prominent Web sites. One can only imagine the kind of hostility and nuttery the White House site would evoke. But another way to look at it is that the imperative of user participation, along with the inevitably huge demand, provides an opportunity to develop best practices in harnessing mass Internet participation.
The goal should be to create a process whereby good ideas, relevant personal stories, informed opinions and perhaps even consensus on some issues can bubble up from the public. And while that may sound impossible, organizations like Wikipedia provide one model for handling vast quantities of user-submitted content with great if not perfect success. That model calls for a huge number of community volunteers working under the guidance of a small number of staffers. The White House is uniquely positioned to mobilize a small army of volunteers to monitor public comments should it choose that route.