Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2009

Sid Salter

Salter: Fittingly, White House Web site changed before oath

Unless you were one of the 164,000-plus people “following” then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on Twitter during the 2008 presidential campaign or were among his 3.8 million Facebook supporters, this column won’t make as much sense to you as it perhaps should.

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President Barack Obama officially took the oath of office on Tuesday — rhetorically mangled as it was by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts  — at exactly 12:05 p.m. The oath was administered some five minutes after the Constitution mandated that Obama’s duties had begun and four minutes after the official White House Web site (whitehouse.gov) changed at 12:01 p.m. to reflect that the presidential transition was essentially complete.

And why shouldn’t the Obama takeover of the White House Web site be a first order of business? No American political candidate in history made better use of new media in his relentless pursuit of the White House than did President Obama.

The Obama camp used new media technologies and strategies to dramatically change the way successful political campaigns operate — and how campaign finance operations will be  run in the future as well.

Obama’s online strategies generated some 3 million donors who made a total of 6.5 million donations to the Obama for President campaign that accounted for more than $500 million in total donations. Of those donations, 6 million were for less than $100.

Obama’s campaign accomplished that with an email list that had 13 million addresses with over one million willing to pay to receive text messages as well. Two million profiles were created on MyBarackObama.com, the new president’s online campaign social network, and he picked up a total of about 5 million supporters in other social networking venues like Facebook and MySpace.

There were 3.8 million supporters on Facebook alone.

So it stands to reason that the Obama folks in the White House were anxious to make their new presidential presence on the official White House Web site “go live” as soon as possible.

White House Director of New Media Macon Phillips will oversee the new Web site and other new media initiatives.

Phillips quickly took the new White House Blog or Web log out for a test drive and posted a blog note that noted: “Change has come to whitehouse.gov.”

Obama, who has legitimately argued with the Secret Service over surrendering his personal digital assistant or Blackberry, is clearly the most technology-savvy president in U.S. history.

 The Internet and Obama’s wise use and manipulation of the outright addiction that many Americans have to handheld computers  and the instant gratification and real-time dissemination of massive amounts of information those devices allow was a critical tool Obama used to build his coalition.

Just as candidate Obama used the Web to knock down rumors, deflect criticism, direct fire against his opponents, shape and retain his own campaign messages and knock down those of his primary and general election opponents, President Obama clearly intends to utilize the official White House Web site in much the same way in dealing with Congress and the media.

While the true interactive capabilities of the “new” Obama White House Web site and that of the former Bush White House Web site aren’t much different, the new Obama site has the look and feel of the successful campaign site.

Obama had demonstrated the ability to use these  new technologies to literally go over the head of his fellow politicians and the media to reach, motivate and deploy his supporters. If it was effective for him as a candidate, it will likely be even more effective for his — at least in the short term — as president.

This is one area where Republicans didn’t just miss the boat — they missed the entire ocean.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. Visit his blog at clarionledger.com.)