Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama 2.0 Continued: Feeling Accessible

Obama's team has built an excitingly accessible transition site: change.gov.
Access. This site symbolizes democratic access and community.

First it is simple, a two column structure with nine tabs line the header:home, newsroom, blog, learn, agenda, America Moment, America Serves, Jobs, About. On the home/arrival page, you find yourself staring at and being stared at by Obama, who is poised to address you thanks to Youtube. The newsroom, or press releases from Obama, actually appears on the home page, below the video.

The blog encourages you to "Watch Your Weekly Address now," and true to the participatory genre and thus expectations of blogs, it asks the visitor to "then send us your questions or ideas about how to fix the economy." It sounds right, except you can't post comments. And cynics who have tried to write legislators in the past, will be wary of the sincerity of the suggestion. It will probably be considered like focus group and survey information in order to craft more scientifically messages to mass and niche markets--I mean, uh, voters.

By clicking "Learn" you can get a slick biography of Obama and Biden, the information about the transition, information about the administration and the inauguration.

Next is "Agenda," which gives the new administration's statements on issues from civil rights to Veterans affairs. It seems surprisingly extensive.

Agenda is followed by "America Moment." This one has two "drop-down" menu links to "sharing your story" and "sharing your vision." When you click on "sharing your story," you get "We're counting on citizens from every walk of life to get involved. Share your experiences and your ideas -- tell us what you'd like the Obama-Biden administration to do and where you'd like the country to go." You are then prompted to complete an information form, where your email and zip code are obligatory. Access or surveillance and data-mining to make you feel participatory and active while you're being studied to have your opinion managed. The "share your vision" option is similar. The prompt is "Start right now. Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?"

"America Serves" continues the theme of getting citizens involved. Apparently, the new administration plans to start several "service organizations" that will offer tax breaks for service. Is this more Reaganesque "voluntarism" and cousin to "faith-based initiatives," or is this a brand new world. Here are some listed:
  • a Classroom Corps to help underserved schools
  • a Health Corps to serve in the nation's clinics and hospitals
  • a Clean Energy Corps to achieve the goal of energy independence
  • a Veterans Corps to support the Americans who serve by standing in harm's way
A "Jobs" tag invites applications to work in the new administration. Strangely, you enter a lot of information for being contacted, but there's no option to upload a CV or describe your competences. Instead, they ask you to list your current position and employer, in addition to commonly mandatory personal information.

Under the last top line tag, you find "About" where they give you a form to "contact" them. They also have an "Accesibilty" link that encompasses many of the points I"m making here: "Commitment to Accessibility: The Obama Administration has a comprehensive agenda to empower individuals with disabilities in order to equalize opportunities for all Americans."

A "Privacy Policy" swears that the administration will not share your information with anyone beyond its staff. That's good to hear. At least they won't be selling the information to other people who want to manage our opinions. (Okay, I'm joking about being cynical. Actually I can't wait to see whether this goes in a more accesible form that produces results other than feelings of participation)

There are also three main categories in the center area, and a sidebar with links to events and the agenda. In the center area, three tabs appear as a menu: "Your weekly Adddress," "Inside the Transition," and "How to Help."

The first tab is groundbreaking in itself, the announcement of a tech upgrade of the old weekly radio president's address. The second helps acquaint the public with the transition team and Obama's goals, via youtube videos of the team in action. It's important that Obama's team calls itself a "team." It's more cooperative as a metaphor, and less bureaucratic than "committee" or "group." "Team work" is a widely used phrase for cooperation and the individual working with others for a good that transcends each person. Of course, other connotations of "team" also suggests there could be a fierce competition, and the browser is invited to identify with this winning team.

"How to help" partly signifies what an inauguration tries to enact, a dedication of cooperative effort between elective executive and the people he represents: "Yes we can." It also signifies a political tactic especially in wide use among political campaign strategists of both major parties:you want to make voters feel like they matter, like they can do something that matters. Very important in a society where very few people feel like they have any effect on government--alienation. During the campaign, parties shifted from trying to use sites to convey information about candidates and the option to donate to giving them information that would equip them to mobilize voters. Now it gives options help with problems such as the California fires. At the bottom left, "It’s Your America: Share Your Ideas The story of the campaign and this historic moment has been your story. Share your story and your ideas, and be part of bringing positive lasting change to this country."
Similar messages stressing your agency and your consubstantiation with government appear on pages such as the "Agenda" page of issues (see left).

How accessible Obama and his team really is another question. The key for belief effects is to create the form of access. Practice will be the judge, provided that one has access to the evaluation of the accessibility! These are some new developments mixed with old uses. Compare, for example, this Obama site with the current whitehouse.gov. Like a lot of sites that really don't want to deal with a lot of email from visitors, they place a tiny "contact" link in the page's footer. There are a fair number of photos, but no videos (at least as I'm looking at it now). It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the whitehouse.gov page changes after the inauguration.

No comments: