Welcome to a new era of drop shadows.
January 20, 2001 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to a new era of drop shadows. Ever since Gore conceded, I was curious about the transition of the White House site. And, um, it's a little sparse right now. Did anyone catch what time it went live?
posted by holgate (59 comments total)
It's an intriguing case, from a web design perspective. Do you make a symbolic break with the past, or go with the usability people and have some continuity...

First thoughts:

1. You'd think they'd at least put as much effort into it as they did the Bush-Cheney site. It's very clean, but feels a bit 1997, David Siegal era.
2. "Made-on-a-mac, since the anti-aliased text looks fuzzy at 72dpi."
3. They've kept much of the historical stuff intact. Good.
4. Text-only for accessibility; ALT tags for images. Good.
5. Why <BR><BR> for paragraph breaks?
6. Non-browser-safe blue, single-pixel-trick spacers. (Hence my "1997" thoughts.)

Any more critiques, from an apolitical perspective? Or how about a MeFi challenge to see who can knock up their own (non-parody) White House site?
posted by holgate at 2:17 PM on January 20, 2001

My question about this is: Is this an upgrade, a downgrade, or maintenance of the status quo? Was the Clinton-era site better or worse?

Does anybody have a screenshot of the old site for comparison?
posted by jjg at 2:24 PM on January 20, 2001

Hmm.. no "secret source text" though. I still remember that 97-98 site, I'm not sure which one it was, but it had this brownish-paper background. It looked better than the last version and this version of the site. I wonder why most of the govn't websites are that bad. The campaign sites are great, hmm, but then again they collect money. heh.

How are govn't sites done? I'm thinking they get a bunch of geeks and establish web divisions?
posted by tiaka at 2:24 PM on January 20, 2001

That is sad.

Really, can the most powerful office in the world (?) not afford to pay someone a few dollars to at least clean it up a bit? Maybe just The search sucks and one minute of clicking around reveals at least one broken link.

(click on the image: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/gb41.html )

Images are broken in the text only version as well.

On the same page, a quick view source reveals old content hidden between comment tags. What's up with that guys?

I'm not even checking any further...

posted by pedro at 2:26 PM on January 20, 2001

I only hope this site favors historical and actual information, as opposed to the spin-spam of Clinton's late 2000 site. Clinton's first site, which I once said, looks like vatican.va, at least didn't post as much about puppies, babies and surpluses. The more recent revision was so pumped full of saccharine my teeth hurt. The Whitehouse site should post daily press briefing transcripts, hours for visitors, the president's e-mail address, and a kids section about Betsy Ross. That's it!
posted by rschram at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2001

On a related note, the US Supreme Court recently redesigned. Now this is useful
posted by rschram at 2:29 PM on January 20, 2001

This is the sort of thread that I hope luke notices, as he worked on the White House site as an intern back in 1996, I believe.
posted by holgate at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2001

But what's that odd shape thing supposed to be?
posted by rodii at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2001

From which I quote:

"The people on the team were incredibly talented, but exclusively wordsmiths or techies. There were no artists or designers to make the site as beautiful as it deserved to be. Nobody seemed to have any visions for where it should go. There wasn't even the right hardware and software to run a decent site, because not enough money was being budgeted."

Plus ça change.
posted by holgate at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2001

Gack. That's
But what's that odd shape thing supposed to be?

Bad enough to put an image on the page, but to blow the HTML. . . sigh.
posted by rodii at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2001

The transition of WhiteHouse.Gov from Clinton to Bush happened right after Bush said "so help me God," according to people on Free Republic.

The Bush version of the site appears to be the Clinton version with a lot of content stripped out. You can still find some of the old stuff here and there. Look at ...


I don't think Bush's people intended to start working by trumpeting Clinton's call to raise the minimum wage.

posted by rcade at 3:13 PM on January 20, 2001

I guess being the youngin' that I am, I never knew the White House site changed with each presidency. Of course now that I think about it it makes since.

But like Holgate said, you'd think they could just hire the same people who have been doing the past Bush sites, like his campaign site and now the Bush-Cheney Transition Site. Those look a lot sleeker than the current White House site, at least.
posted by swank6 at 3:13 PM on January 20, 2001

Swank6: This is the first time the White House Web site has changed. Clinton introduced whitehouse.gov.
posted by rcade at 3:16 PM on January 20, 2001

According to ABC, the new site went up right after all of the speeches ended, before the parades. They even announced it.
posted by Cavatica at 3:17 PM on January 20, 2001

Several different versions of whitehouse.gov are archived online here. To see what it looked like before Bush became president today, visit http://clinton4.nara.gov/.
posted by rcade at 3:20 PM on January 20, 2001

The Bush people didn't have much time to work on the site, since they weren't given any access to it until after all the election mess was settled. It's just a glorified placeholder site at the moment. Give it a few weeks.
posted by aaron at 3:31 PM on January 20, 2001

Hrm, this is interesting. Go look at it now; the "new" design is still there, but all the front page headlines are Clinton press releases going back to January 8.
posted by aaron at 3:33 PM on January 20, 2001

I'm seeing the same thing, Aaron. All of a sudden all the Clinton stuff is roaring back!
posted by rcade at 3:35 PM on January 20, 2001

And now the headlines are gone again, but one of the links in the right-hand column now reads "Insert Something Meaningful Here." Certainly they must have a preview server...?
posted by aaron at 3:37 PM on January 20, 2001

Huh, nothing there at all, now. All of the links (including "insert something meaningful here" go to http://www.whitehouse.gov... What's up with these folks?
posted by whatnotever at 3:48 PM on January 20, 2001

Oh, that's marvelous. Now there's no front page content besides the left bar, with the aforementioned "Insert Something Meaningful Here".

Hey, maybe it'll be a blog!
posted by hijinx at 3:50 PM on January 20, 2001

Just in case someone wakes up and get's rid of that most umprofessional 'insert something meaningful here' link, I've taken the liberty of snapping a screenshot.
posted by aladfar at 3:56 PM on January 20, 2001

Where's Luke when you need him. I bet he could shed some light on all this. Luke!
posted by mathowie at 3:56 PM on January 20, 2001

The Bush people didn't have much time to work on the site, since they weren't given any access to it until after all the election mess was settled.

Oh, come on, aaron. They had six weeks. I've built entire cororate sites from scratch in less time than that. And as for the "access" argument: it's not as if they were working with private documents here (hint: wget -r http://www.whitehouse.gov).

Perhaps they could have recruited one of the Cool Site In A Day teams if they were really at a pinch.
posted by holgate at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2001

cororate? Heh. I agree however, they had the time, they should have done something. Again, the campaign site is great, design and usability wise, who did it? Why not have them create it?
posted by tiaka at 4:24 PM on January 20, 2001

I remember in '96 my colleagues were very worried that Dole would win, for many reasons, one of which being the hassle it would be to update the site. Notepad was the team's most sophisticated content-management tool, so they'd have to go in and update every single page by hand.

It is indeed unfortunate. I don't know whether the people have changed since I left, but it's never been clearer that the priorities remain low and resources remain scant.

My guess is that content is still run by two or three hard-working civil servants/contractors and one or two goofing-off interns, none of whom have much Web design background or training, all handcuffed by three or four layers of management, some on the cluetrain, most under it. I would not expect "President" Bush to flood the project with the resources -- or competent managers -- it needs.

I was really looking forward to what Gore would have done with the site. He's one of the few leaders who "get" the Web. Gingrich was the only other one to "get" the Web, as evidenced by Thomas, which he helped spearhead. I always wished the White House site could be more like Thomas.

As for the Siegel look, that could be my fault. This was 1996, after all, and I was young and foolish, and I talked him up quite a bit, even passing his book around. My bad.

And I never did convince people that graphics should be done at 72 dpi. I tried. For curious masochists, here are some other things I tried to teach them. Jeez, I haven't looked at this page in more than four years. It nearly brings a tear to my eye, both for the nostalgia but also for how atrocious it is. Yuck! No wonder I got out of the Web design racket.
posted by luke at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2001

I know: s/oro/orpo/. And my whole-site-building days are behind me ;)

It's a bit of an oversight, I think. After all, the major online news media are all going to provide links to the new site, and clicking from, say, BBC News Online is going to be a bit of a let-down.

It's bizarre: you'd think that the people behind the Bush-Cheney campaign site would be champing at the bit to do Whitehouse.gov. (It'd look pretty damn good on the resume, after all.) In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few mockups languishing on designers' hard drives for a while now. It just looks as if the transition team just didn't make the right calls.
posted by holgate at 4:48 PM on January 20, 2001

And yeah, luke, the Thomas site is a credit to Gingrich and the people who maintain it. The UK Parliament site could really do with taking a few hints. (And the less said about the unemailability of our MPs, the better.
posted by holgate at 4:52 PM on January 20, 2001

The campaign site is great, design and usability wise, who did it? Why not have them create it?

The Bush-Cheney site probably cost several hundred thousand dollars. They're in the government now, and, believe it or not, they need to follow a tighter budget. There simply is no money.
posted by luke at 4:57 PM on January 20, 2001

Apparently they just weren't thinking ahead. If it were me, I would have paid for my team to do the site before taking office and walking into those budget constraints. Then you can walk in and hand the beleaguered techies a cd and say 'load 'er up'.

As a beleaguered techie working for the fed m'self, I would have been grateful.

posted by frykitty at 5:06 PM on January 20, 2001

No matter how hard the Bush people try, or the Clinton people worked at it, nothing can top the Lincoln site.
posted by Postroad at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2001

I like Holgate's "MeFi challenge" to see how we would design the White House site, if given the opportunity. But what I really want to know is: who's going to do the 5k version?
posted by jbushnell at 5:31 PM on January 20, 2001

Can we choose "Insert Something Meaningful Here" as the slogan for the next four years?
posted by jbushnell at 5:33 PM on January 20, 2001

Then you can walk in and hand the beleaguered techies a cd and say 'load 'er up'.

Well, maybe this will still happen. Today is Saturday, after all, and if anyone walked in, they probably walked into an empty office.

Back in the day, one beleagured techie would come in for an hour each Saturday to put up the Real Audio of the president's radio address. He's probably the one who was there to flip the switch at noon today. If I were him, I would have flipped it and then gone home to my bedroom closet, where I would drink until I could no longer remember who our president was, and deal with the Bush-Cheney team on Monday. But that's just me.
posted by luke at 5:38 PM on January 20, 2001

Seems to me there'd be serious problems with having the political folks cook up a new site and hand it over to the civil servants. What if it was missing things? What if there were three sections covering what used to be two before?

Anyway, this is par for the course. As reported by someone joining the Clinton White House in 1992, all the computers were missing their hard drives and nobody even had a phone list. It's practically like moving a wholly-functioning company into a small office building, but you don't have files or company records or even a collective memory.
posted by dhartung at 6:05 PM on January 20, 2001

"Insert something meaningful here" has been removed - glad I took that screenshot.

All of this suggests that someone is over there keeping an eye on things. On the whole, however, this is most unprofessional. This isn't 1996, it's 2001.

posted by aladfar at 6:49 PM on January 20, 2001

So, how does Bush's site compare to those of other world leaders?

Prime Minister Chrétien
Prime Minister Blair
President Chirac
Chancellor Schröder
President Putin
Prime Minister Mori
Prime Minister Amato
President Arafat
Prime Minister Barak

(And being an Aussie, I can't forget Prime Minister Howard.)
posted by waterfrog at 8:51 PM on January 20, 2001

"Insert something meaningful here" probably flows from the "We'll always have at least 2 stories" way of thinking. And it always will, after today. Oops. So I presume they just ripped out that code as a quickie fix.
posted by smackfu at 8:59 PM on January 20, 2001

Well, uh, we kick Arafat's ass.

Suddenly I'm embarrassed to be an American. ahem.

posted by frykitty at 8:59 PM on January 20, 2001

Oh, come on, aaron. They had six weeks.

We have no way of knowing how much time they had to work directly with the servers that house the WH site. I'm going to guess not much at all, given the usual hostility between outgoing administrations of one party and incoming admins of another.

The site blows, sure. If it still blows in a couple of months, you'll have a point.
posted by aaron at 9:11 PM on January 20, 2001

Great links, Waterfrog. Even Putin blows us away.

So to speak, knock on wood.
posted by luke at 9:26 PM on January 20, 2001

I don't see what access to the servers has to do with it. Sure, if you're doing some kind of database implementation, that stuff is important, but a site like this one could have been developed on somebody's hard drive and migrated to the live servers without incident.

Then again, the evidence does indicate that they've never heard of a staging environment, so maybe they've been working on the live servers since they started designing the thing. That would explain a lot, actually.
posted by jjg at 9:55 PM on January 20, 2001

Here's the Indian counterpart

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee

posted by riffola at 10:08 PM on January 20, 2001

Yes, there is a staging environment, used without exception.
posted by luke at 10:08 PM on January 20, 2001

Two other (less common) ways to get two different error messages:

Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/metafilter and click on the "Text" link.

Go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/images and click on the "Text" link.

I wonder if this admin will try to do anything different about http://whitehouse.com [note: adult site]. Ashcroft, get to work!
posted by gluechunk at 11:11 PM on January 20, 2001

Putin's site is nice! The nicest of the bunch, though not necessarily the best. They're all slow to load (particularly Blair's 10 Downing St site). The Canadian site is purty as well, and seems to have a lot behind it, though the French/English switch on the splash page may prove to be the death of Canadian web projects (personal bias against that, though it's pretty unavoidble here). And the scrolling text has to go.

I'm sure whitehouse.gov looks much better at 640x480 or 8x6 or whatever it is. ;->

Mori's site is also very good.
posted by mikel at 1:18 AM on January 21, 2001

aladfar: Hilarious screenshot.

That "White House For Kids" graphic looks bad with the balloons. The kids section appears to be devoted towards former Presidents' pets and kids. Bizarre.

The copy is amateurish. "Children in the White House" header followed by copy that already indicates what's in the header. And that's not the only thing that's redundant. Take a look at the title attributes for the menu. I'm surprised at the position of the "Home" option in the menu near the bottom. This looks like it was slapped together in one evening.

Of course, given that Bush will be the first President to be paid $400,000 a year (the first raise since 1969), there had to be a cutback somewhere.

posted by ed at 1:31 AM on January 21, 2001

mikel, I was thinking the Italian’s site looked far superior to the others. But then, I'm partial to Italian design/ers. I mean, look how well la cerca all' inferiore is laid out. A fantastic use of white space to seperate confusing informazioni.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 2:43 AM on January 21, 2001

As jjg said: you really don't need intimate access to the servers to put together a site which is almost entirely static content. (With one of the first cororate [sic] sites I put together, we had absolutely no access to the web server: the site was uploaded by FTP to a separate box in Head Office, and someone had to hot-swap the hard drive with the one in the web server. Astonishing how sites were put together in 1995.)

I'm quite impressed with the Swiss Government site: it's helped by the relatively minor position of its chief executive. The Dutch Monarchy site is lovely on the eye, as well, though its latest iteration is a little bit Flashtastic, and I also like the Dutch PM's site.
posted by holgate at 4:37 AM on January 21, 2001

Putin's site is glorious: having options for all the different encodings of Cyrillic, and avoiding directory madness by having them run on separate HTTP ports.

It's the sort of simple solution that might have worked well with Chretien's site, instead of having everything generated with ASP from (I'd imagine) two parallel databases. Won't that kind of dynamic generation make it difficult to index the site in external search engines?

That said, maintaining a two-language version is obviously much harder than just changing the encoding: I'm amazed how the Swiss government site manages to get everything up in its four official languages.
posted by holgate at 4:45 AM on January 21, 2001

Just visited that British FaxYourMP.com site - hilarious that some guys just did this themselves because British Members of Parliament won't use email - are they serious?

Very nice lo-fi site, too...
posted by jobenson at 6:43 AM on January 21, 2001

mikel, that french/english selector thingy's law, so not having it would definitely be the death of Canadian government sites.

There's also lots of .ca addresses that have the selector. It's just something you get used to up here. :-)

And you're right, the scrolling text has to go.
posted by cCranium at 7:02 AM on January 21, 2001

hilarious that some guys just did this themselves because British Members of Parliament won't use email - are they serious?

Deadly serious. The people behind FaxYourMP also had a hand in Stand. And as NTK reported the other week, some MPs are refusing to accept faxes because they "don't have a signature for verification". Well, neither did the emails telling us this, so we'll just ignore them.
posted by holgate at 8:37 AM on January 21, 2001

Hey, on this side of the pond we have Voter.com. There were still a few holdouts on the e-mail thang, but Voter.com (a Dick Morris project) would deliver them via other means if necessary.

Given all that's happened (six weeks of transition devoted to chad-pokery), the Bush team had a shorter preparation period than any other administration (save direct transitions when a Veep succeeded). Heck, they barely got the whole cabinet nominated in time. I'm willing to cut 'em a few days' slack on the website.

The new President of the Phillippines is having trouble keeping up with fast-paced events, as well ...
posted by dhartung at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2001

And for that matter, her predecessor's website still seems to think it's last Friday ... in more ways than one. (And half the government websites link to it.)
posted by dhartung at 9:47 AM on January 21, 2001

Dang! One more thought. There's a certain benefit to doing it the Phillippine way, where the domain name itself belongs to the sitting President. That is, there seems to be no equivalent of whitehouse.gov. All you'd need, of course, is a domain redirect -- not that DNS changes take place all at once. So a < meta http-equiv="5;http://newpresident.com" > (probably got that wrong)
posted by dhartung at 9:50 AM on January 21, 2001

dhartung: it's a telling difference between the US and UK that Voter.com aims to revive the interest ofan apathetic electorate, while and FaxYourMP attempts to instil some duty into the actual representatives. Seventy per cent of us turn up to elect our MPs, and they're looking for ways to shirk their responsibilities? Pathetic.
posted by holgate at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2001

Heh - cC - I'm here in the belly of the beast (Montreal) so I know ALL about the necessity of the F/E thing. I deal with it every day, pretty much - that's why it's going to be the death of me.

Actually though, I'm in the early planning stages of a non-commercial site that will mix French and English in a single presentation of the site with no translation at all, or very little. Idea being to more accurately reflect the experience of Montreal for Montrealers.
posted by mikel at 2:51 PM on January 21, 2001

[tiaka et al] they had the time, they should have done something. Again, the campaign site is great, design and usability wise, who did it? Why not have them create it?

Well, as I know one of the guys who volunteered for the Bush campaign and helped work on some of the websites (mostly state-oriented campaign organization sites, not directly on the main site, although he was involved--he's writing his master's thesis on the use of the Internet in political campaigns), I will say that once the election was decided, very little had been done in the way of actually hiring anyone. There are thousands of positions to fill, and they won't be done hiring until summer, most likely.

Given that there are lots of things more important than a website when you're preparing to become President of the United States, it's not surprising that this was an area that got neglected. Can't say I blame them. The site is pretty lame now, but it will improve.
posted by daveadams at 9:29 AM on January 22, 2001

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