Jakob takes on the presidency
January 23, 2001 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Jakob takes on the presidency in this Wired review of whitehouse.gov.
posted by fleener (11 comments total)
Jakob states the obvious, perhaps less heavy-handedly than usual.

This thing I think the site should get is that it's not a Dubya site, it's the official site of an organ of the US government. That means that they should discriminate between the "White House" aspect of the site and the "Dubya Administration" aspect. rather than gutting the site, there should be a (large) core of stuff that doesn't change--stuff on the nature of the office, the history of the presidency and the White House, the administrative structure, etc. That part is obviously going to influenced by the policy and politics of the current occupant, but it shouldn't have to be torn down every time the occupant changes. They don't repaint every room and throw away all the furniture, do they?

Within that structure is where the Dubya Administration content ought to live: news, press releases, position papers, biographical stuff, Christmas tree lightings, and like that. That's probably the "hot," high-turnover content and should be treated like a news site.

Actually, I can see a three-part division, now that I think of it: Dubya's personal Presidential content, the White House-as-institution content, and the head-of-the-executive-branch content (Cabinet members, etc.). Whether those should be presented as separate sites or intermingled is up to them, but it seems to me they need distinct treatments either way.
posted by rodii at 7:36 AM on January 23, 2001

Hey, what happened to that idea about a contest between mefi users - who builds the best white house site? Hmm.. maybe merge it with 5k? Heh. Was it?
posted by tiaka at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2001

Anything that gives that Jakob guy even a flyspeck of added credibility is bad in my book. For shame, Wired.
posted by crunchland at 8:54 AM on January 23, 2001

What the hell:

"Jakob Nielsen -- design virtuoso"

Since when?
posted by DragonBoy at 10:25 AM on January 23, 2001

Er, well, they haven't had much time to get working on this, you know. Inauguration was Saturday, and it's doubtful they even have a skeleton crew of web staff hired yet, much less settled in with the software they like, familiarized with the server, etc. etc.

Jakob complains that problems haven't been fixed yet, but that article was published at 2am this morning... Most of the big problems (broken links, "insert something meaningful here, etc) have been fixed.

Likely there's one or two people responsible for the site at this point, so I think they're doing all right. Could the Bushites planned a bit better? Yes, but as I have mentioned before, this probably wasn't a high priority considering the compressed transition period (remember the GAO wouldn't let them into the government-sponsored offices until the SCOTUS decision).

What upsets me is how freaking slow the site is.
posted by daveadams at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2001

dave, they haven't had time? the earlier Wired article states that "bush's aides had barely a month to prepare." assuming just one person created the site, don't you think they could have had something better to show for a month's a work?
posted by gluechunk at 12:20 PM on January 23, 2001

In defense of one-person web "teams" (I are one), much if not most of your development time is spent waiting for other people to write or approve content, which can affect the site structure, which can affect the backend database, which can ripple into a dozen other types of changes. Just because there are only one or two people "responsible" for a website doesn't mean there aren't many, many others upon whom those two people depend.
posted by bradlands at 12:29 PM on January 23, 2001

I think the division idea is an excellent point. There was a ton of information at the old site that doesn't need to change, except perhaps in editorial tone. The structure should remain consistent, too, IMHO -- if there are links out there to the White House current press releases page, they shouldn't be broken. Didn't Luke tell us that most of the people are civil service anyway? They'd still have all the old stuff.

I wonder whether we should count our blessings that it's still at whitehouse.gov.
posted by dhartung at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2001

I'm going to link together a couple of today's threads, and argue that the executive system in Britain and most of Europe -- driven by a large, apolitical permanent civil service -- makes life so much easier than the wholesale clearout of US administrations. You wouldn't have the frank embarrassment that is whitehouse.gov right now; nor would you have the juvenile fuckwittedness of Democrat staffers removing "W" keys from White House keyboards.

To the rest of the world, it looks shambolic: or at least, unprofessional. You may carp against "big government", but there's something to be said for a system that brings a little stability to the delicate process of transition. In the UK, an incoming minister receives a massive briefing document from civil servants describing just how the party's manifesto pledges can -- and can't -- be delivered in real terms. This briefing is prepared, more or less, in the six weeks of a general election campaign.

Then again, anyone who's seen Yes, Minister can imagine how badly Bush's cabinet would cope against a Sir Humphrey.

[I say this because many of my friends are civil servants, who take a ridiculously low salary compared to private industry in order to bring at least the patina of reality to government.]
posted by holgate at 4:14 PM on January 23, 2001

Holgate, the US does have a large permanent civil service which is largely apolitical. The US Government is the single largest employer in the United States. Out of millions of employees, a new administration replaces at most a few hundred. Even at the State Department most of the diplomats are career. The majority of our ambassadors are career; only a few diplomats are political appointees.

It's really no different than the British cabinet being changed with a new PM.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:44 PM on January 23, 2001

assuming just one person created the site, don't you think they could have had something better to show for a month's a work?

Depends on who that person is, I suppose. From what I've heard from a good friend who worked for the Bush campaign about the people in charge of the website, and based on the fact that they haven't gotten around to hiring the low-on-the-totem-pole peons who actually know what they're doing, I'm not surprised it turned out so lame.
posted by daveadams at 6:39 PM on January 23, 2001

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