- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

CHICAGO | The Web address won’t change, but WhiteHouse.gov will never look the same. The Chicago-based team that made the Internet such a force in helping Barack Obama win the presidency is moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The president-elect already is up with Change.gov, a site that mimics the style and visuals of his campaign site and asks supporters to help with the transition by sharing their stories and their visions for America.

The message is one of participation in government, and new users are told: “Thanks for signing up to join us in remaking Washington.”

When the Illinois Democrat takes the oath of office Jan. 20, WhiteHouse.gov is likely to get a complete makeover in the style of Change.gov and the campaign site Barack Obama.com.

Mr. Obama communicated with his supporters directly via e-mail and text messaging before claiming victory Tuesday night, an early indicator that the first YouTube candidate will become the YouTube president.

The campaign won’t say whether the BarackTV and live-streamed events will continue after the inauguration, but all signs point to a revolutionized way of White House communication with America and the world.

“The most interesting thing to watch will be what do they and how do they reinvent the way a president speaks to the American people,” said Simon Rosenberg of the liberal think tank NDN and a veteran of the Clinton White House.

“There’s no doubt this is going to be more of a YouTube presidency than a fireside chat presidency,” he said. “President Obama will be reinventing the relationship between the president and the American people using these new tools.”

Mr. Obama will inherit a Web operation that has improved over the years but is sterile - a press release clearinghouse with no blog and which shares little in common with the vibrant graphics- and video-heavy BarackObama.com that attracted millions of supporters.

The Obama team went live Thursday with Change.gov, which included blog postings and had a similar framework for providing information to Web users.

The blog noted that the site aims to help Americans understand the transition before Mr. Obama takes office and “the decisions being made as part of it.”

“It also offers an opportunity to be heard about the challenges our country faces and your ideas for tackling them,” read the site’s first blog posting. “The Obama administration will reflect an essential lesson from the success of the Obama campaign: that people united around a common purpose can achieve great things.”

The size of the president-elect’s e-mail and text message list is a closely guarded secret in Chicago, but a source said it was large enough to mobilize people into taking action. It’s also a group of people who had become accustomed to hearing from Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and top staffers such as campaign manager David Plouffe.

The frequent communications helped his supporters remain engaged in the election and inspired more than 1 million people to volunteer and help the senator from Illinois win the White House on Tuesday. It also creates the potential to get Americans to participate in multiple ways. During the campaign, Mr. Obama encouraged people on his site to aid hurricane victims, a request that yielded an impressive response.

Some Democratic sources had expected Barack Obama.com to go dark, as had the Web sites of past candidates. When the campaigns concluded, the candidates were out of money, but Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to have that problem.

The Web site was up with a “thank you” message and still allowed voters to submit their information to become a part of the vast Obama database. The new Change.gov also collects resume information for administration job applicants.

Mr. Obama for more than a year has promised to broadcast key meetings such as negotiations over a health care plan on C-SPAN, telling voters he would have the most transparent White House in history.

The new site seems to operate with inclusion in mind.

It lays out “The Agenda”: Revitalizing the economy, ending the war in Iraq, providing health care for all, protecting America and renewing American global leadership. Those action items aren’t any surprise, but the site offers more information for everyday Americans than the winding-down campaign has provided the press.

He also allowed supporters to organize on his Web site. During the summer, thousands who opposed his vote for the terrorism surveillance bill became the largest group on MyBarackObama.

The Internet has transformed dissent as well, and members of the netroots think they are one reason Mr. Obama did not select Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, as his running mate. They organized to tell the campaign that Mr. Bayh was sending the wrong message.

Hot on the Web after Mr. Obama won on Tuesday was the Cabinet News Ladder, an aggregator of everything related to people who may gain positions in an Obama administration.

“Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton picked his Cabinet in relative quiet. Right or wrong, I don’t think President-elect Obama is going to have to worry about receiving a shortage of opinions,” said Democratic strategist James Boyce, who is responsible for the news ladder site.

“In 1992, no one was blogging about their favorites, no one was watching the prediction markets, no one was e-mailing their friends, … cell phones were new and faxes came out of the machines on long rolls,” he said. “The netroots was heard loud and clear this past cycle; I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from them in the coming days.”

In addition to the massive database, nearly 120,000 people are following the president-elect on Twitter and more than 128,000 are subscribed to Obama YouTube videos.

“President-elect Obama has so many people that will have participated with this campaign that he’ll need to stay in touch with,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “There are millions of Americans who have been very plugged in to the Obama campaign generally and to Barack specifically. They are going to want to stay involved.”

Mr. Rosenberg noted the president-elect can communicate with the world through the Internet in a way the Bush administration has not, saying that he hoped and thought that Web videos coming out of the White House would be translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Farsi and Arabic.

“He can redefine how a president speaks to the world.”

The Obama Facebook page on Wednesday was a showcase for that potential.

Ermitha Sari Hardiani of Indonesia sent her best wishes, posting on the Obama page: “Even I’m not American, I hope in your leadership, you can make a big difference not just to your country, but the world, because we are connected each other.”

“Gracias, Barack,” Claudio Gonzalez wrote, saying in Spanish that he expected big changes from the United States.

Through the course of the campaign, the Obama team communicated directly with supporters from specific demographic groups, from college students to Jewish voters using new media.

Many of the Web videos posted by the team - 1,821 in all - went under the radar and unreleased by the press. Some of the group’s most intrepid staffers became road warriors for the campaign, traveling at Mr. Obama’s side for months and quickly uploading key moments they knew could help frame the race.

“Thank you to everyone who has taken part in the HQ blog conversation and livened the myBO community with your commentary, stories, humor and passion,” key members of the New Media team posted on the Obama blog, noting the online community “helped lay the foundation for this grassroots movement and built something that can last for years to come.”

The Obama blogger thank-you note concluded: “You shattered every record and expectation, and you changed our politics.”

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