Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet

The Guardian’s Comment is Free asked me to write a post about the new White House blog. I’m about to get on a plane so I’m crossposting it here before that link goes up…..

Two years ago, when I interviewed the then-head of David Cameron’s Webcameron, I asked whether—when and if he assumed office as Prime Minister—he would continue making his videos. “If it suddenly stopped,” the aide replied, “that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.”

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet.

Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty.

We see the barest beginnings of his digital administration at the White House Blog. (Ah, how that link warms the heart of a blogger. Too bad that the president and vice-president of Iran beat the president of the birthplace of blogging to the platform. Oh, well, progress is progress.)

Dave Winer, one of the fathers of blogging, complained on Twitter and his blog that the presidential blog is weak tea. But I think 24 hours is too soon to judge a revolution.

The presidential blogmaster, Macon Phillips, promises communication, transparency, and participation and we’ll see how well he and his boss live up to their broad goals. Before taking office, they asked the public to suggest policy and action at–as Starbucks and Dell do (it’s all the rage)–but, sadly, they took that down when they took office and linked instead to the new blog, where we can watch and read his inaugural address.

A new age of government openness, and collaboration with the citizenry won’t be made on one blog or Twitter or RSS feed or YouTube stage. It will be made by issuing and instilling a new ethic of transparency in government.

I argue that we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business, which should occur digitally and in the open, so citizens may search, link, comment on, and analyze it. Rather than our asking the government to release our information, the government should ask our permission not to.

And the President should also instill an ethic of listening in the agencies of his administration. Some collaboration may occur at the White House site. But the real voice of the people is already out here, on the internet, in blogs, on YouTube, all around us. All you have to do is search for it and listen. That will be a new age in government.

  • When you criticize something Jeff you’re not complaining, you’re criticizing.

    What did you think of the points I made?

    What happens when they lock it down and ask why we didn’t say something when it was fluid? Didn’t you used to be a TV critic?

    Do you think that it’s possible that I might have a good vision for what’s possible, based on my past contributions?

    A little support can go a long way.

    And btw Jeff this is a complaint. :-)

    • Dave,
      We are agreeing. You’re saying it’s not enough. I’m saying the ambition needs to be much more – and more than discussion on their site. It has to be an ethic. If we disagree it all, it’s that the first day is perhaps not enough time to judge the execution of their promise. Though then again, I used to review TV shows after the pilot.

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  • MarkJ

    “Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty.”

    Ummm, Jeff. Where have you been the last few months? Nearly all the promises of “change” by His Preppiness have already been shown to be empty. Take a look at his cabinet, for starters. Mostly in their 60’s, mostly white, mostly Old Beltway Hands, and with some really questionable ethics. Yeah, that’s real hopeyropeydopeychange. Bill Richardson anyone? Eric “Pardon Boy” Holder perhaps? Hillary Clinton? How about a Secretary of the Treasury nominee who can’t even figure out his own tax forms? Tom “Miss South Dakota Goat Rope 1973” Daschle? Puh-leeeeze.

    Oh well, I hear Obama is going to be a real cool hep-cat and throw up more Glorious Dear Leader propaganda vids on YouTube for the kiddies. Gee, they’ll definitely ignore them then. Of course, if His Preppiness really wants people to click on his vids, he should label them “HOT RUSSIAN LESBO ACTION” or “HERMAPHRODITE JELL-O WRESTLING” or “MICHELLE OBAMA – NEKKID!”

    Capisce, paisan?

    • @v Mark J,
      It’s not about cool or hip. It’s about smart and experienced.

  • NY Times roundup of criticism of

    I know you respect the Times.

  • Dave are you forgetting that he is still a politician? I knew once Obama was elected on Nov 4th he wouldn’t bother writing on his Twitter page after that. He used Twitter to it’s end and that was it, discarded. I knew it so much that I predicted on and bet on it.

    Perhaps you should put your money where you mouth is and saying that Obama will write a blog post within the next few weeks on Want me to invite you to ;-P

    • For my money, I would rather have Obama figuring out what to do next, than twittering.
      It’s that time to put away childish things, thing.

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  • BHO has a blog for the same reason that MegaLoMart, Inc. has a blog: it helps them have a hip, cool with-it, down-with-it image.

    What was at the WH before was a news page… with items grouped by the day… in descending order. Kinda like something else. Except, each event had one or more links to video, a transcript, associated press releases, etc. etc. It was like a grown-up blog. For those who know what the following means: it was like the difference between a basic Drupal blog site and a Drupal site built using custom content types that have CCK fields, and with the nodes put into a hierarchy. Instead of something smart like that, BHO has a simple blog, for the reason stated above.

    As for Winer, maybe now that BHO is elected he’ll unlock that thread where he deleted my comment:

    Regarding transparency, they offer a sanitized version of someone’s bio:

    Regarding their projects letting citizens submit questions and proposals, I describe how much of a scam they were here:

    If Jarvis wants transparency that won’t require very major legislation, he should push plans that will result in BHO being asked the questions that the MSM is too crooked to ask, the questions that BHO needs to be asked but was not at any during the last two years.

  • It is still possible to access the site up. Is this what you’re referring to (Starbucks and Dell like?):

    However, I don’t think this is going to work. Look at the top issue : marijuana legalisation !. Hard to believe this is #issue in he US nowadays.

    I think this system has (had_ the same problem as Ideastorm, it’s the victim of lobby. Maybe the reason why they are shutting is down.

    When brand (or political organization) really want to listen, they have to build strategy for it and go where they target hang up. If they try to own the discussions, then they open the door for the most vocal, or better organized communities.

    I just published a short study on Ideastorm:

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  • @Jeff,
    Sorry, I don’t buy ” we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business,” unless you are talking about a process not a do it now policy.

    People are still people. Without good laws, transparency is only a necessary, but not sufficient condition to getting it right.

    • Don’t take everything literally. It is said to make a point. I thought that should be obvious.

      • DominusOminous

        Perhaps you thought it should be obvious, but it wasn’t. It totally undermines your entire premise. The FOIA is a high-water mark of the notion of open government which has been the most important tool of accountability for decades. Any individual with even the most passing of interest in your proposition knows this and will discount your point as a result.

        I’m not here to shoot down your desires for open and accountable government, for I share them as well and have been an activist to that end. The web, however, is far too ephemeral for the function of government beyond a temporal lens for the day. Just because we now have a ‘net friendly administration does not mean that some future administration will be far less so and will not use its power to subvert the transparency we treasure, as we have so recently witnessed. “What Yahoo account did you want to use today, Sarah?”

        Nice try, but no thanks. As an added feature to a 200 year old experiment? Sure. As a central change in the access of the people to its actions? Never.

        • Sigh. I’m not really suggesting we abolish it. I’m making a point. Transparency should be the default in government. I use this rhetorical approach to make the point. Clear?

  • I checked the Spanish version and is almost empty. It only has the president’s, vp’s and their wifes bios. No habla español, presidente Obama?

  • Tex Lovera

    Government is run by politicians. The power of politicians emanates from restricting, controlling, and manipulating information. Example 1? The current bailout.

    There will be no “openness” in government until there are no politicians, regardless of the technology used to “distribute” the information that they are willing to release.

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