Obama Web site has yet to cohere

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The Obama Web site is flashy and tech-savvy but has yet to achieve coherence. Read why here. Here’s a sample of the piece:

The biggest difference is that the Bush Web site archived all its information by year, month and day, with a sidebar menu that allowed a user to view virtually all the information from, for example, a day in 2002 — speech transcripts along with video and audio of the speech, press releases, official statements, nominations, letters to Congress, executive orders — with three clicks of the mouse.

The same information on the Obama site, however, is spread across various parts of the Web site. The longer ago something happened, the harder it is to find.

“It’s lots of PR and not a lot of data,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, who called the site “brochureware.”

One former White House Web director for the Bush administration called the overall experience “discombobulated.”

“It is confusing to locate specific content and the structure is not intuitive,” said David Almacy, a senior vice president for digital public affairs at Edelman.

Macon Phillips, Mr. Obama’s director of new media and the man most responsible for the president’s new Web site, said the site remains a “work in progress.”

Click here to see the old Bush Web site, then click on the “Current News” button on the left sidebar, and test for yourself which structure you like better.

One question that is still unanswered, and I’m not sure how you answer it, is whether old information is hard to find on the Obama Web site because they intentionally want to make it difficult or because it is designed by a younger generation of communicators whose thinking is less linear and more visually-oriented.

Mike Schafer, founder of D.C.’s own openbox9 Web design, adds his voice to the chorus of designers who say that the Obama site is more about look than utility.

“Obama’s site plays the part of image builder,” Schafer writes. But he says that for now, this is OK, as long as the White House organizes and archives all of its information more efficiently in the future. This is somewhat similar to what Jimmy Orr, who oversaw Bush’s Web site for the first four years, said.

David Almacy ran the Bush Web site during Bush’s second term. He fleshes out some of the problems with the Obama Web site here:

My biggest disappointment with the new site is the difficulty I have in locating information due to poor organization architecture. It is confusing to locate specific content and the structure is not intuitive. So much emphasis is placed on the blog that, unfortunately, related materials such as transcripts, photos, audio, video and links get lost, are buried or seem to be posted as an afterthought in separate, unrelated location.

For example, the March 24, 2009 press conference was posted on the blog as, “Addressing Our Problems Head-On” and only included President Obama’s answer to a tough question posed by CNN’s Ed Henry which many thought was a highlight. The next morning, I still couldn’t find a transcript or video and when a link finally did appear a few hours later, it sent users to the Los Angeles Times blog. I’m sure the LA Times executives (and the blog’s advertisers) appreciate the increased site traffic from a taxpayer funded site, but shouldn’t WhiteHouse.gov – and ultimately the National Archives – be the permanent source for that information? What happens if the LA Times moves the transcript or starts charging for archived content on their site? In all fairness, I did eventually find the transcript a day or so later after several attempts via the search engine, but it wasn’t easy.

Also, Christopher Hitchens wrote a scathing rejoinder to all of President Obama’s backers who support his decision to avoid speaking too forcefully against the Iranian regime, for fear of being used for propaganda purposes by Tehran.

Hitchens’ basic point: They’re going to use the U.S. for propaganda no matter what. His subpoint is that the younger generation of Iranians no longer believes the conspiracy theories fed to them by the ruling class.

Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of “the Islamic republic.” But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed …

There is then the larger question of the Iranian theocracy and its continual, arrogant intervention in our affairs: its export of violence and cruelty and lies to Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq and its unashamed defiance of the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nontrivial matter of nuclear weapons. I am sure that I was as impressed as anybody by our president’s decision to quote Martin Luther King—rather late in the week—on the arc of justice and the way in which it eventually bends. It was just that in a time of crisis and urgency he was citing the wrong King text (the right one is to be found in the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”), and it was also as if he were speaking as the president of Iceland or Uruguay rather than as president of these United States. Coexistence with a nuclearized, fascistic theocracy in Iran is impossible even in the short run. The mullahs understand this with perfect clarity. Why can’t we?

Lastly, look for The Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan in the president’s press conference today at the White House. He’s in the third row, third seat in from the left (looking at the seats from the podium).

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

Follow me on Twitter // jward@washingtontimes.com // Read my latest articles here // My YouTube channel

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