Changing Change.gov

Change.gov has already been changing. Less than a week after its official launch, which occurred on November 6th, 2008, the site transitioned from an aggressive agenda setting Web presence to a milder placeholder of news updates. Now, it once again includes the Obama-Biden agenda items. What will it look like once President-elect Obama is sworn into office?

The Obama campaign’s use of the Web has been ambitious. BarackObama.com was a sharply designed website but beyond that, the campaign used social networking, text messaging, and even an iPhone-specific application to push their message and keep supporters involved.

Thus, it was no surprise that Change.gov was launched almost immediately after the Obama campaign win. Requesting “Change.gov” was bold. It was an obvious message to tell supporters and more generally Americans that change was not just a slogan. It was now somewhat legitimatized by the highly regulated GSA domain “.gov.”

The initial government sanctioning of the Obama change mantra and the era of his administration was birthed at Change.gov. Yet soon after that birthing, observers noticed that the big ideas of President-elect Obama went missing. His agenda items were removed. Speculations ran wild – were their legal issues related to copying the BarackObama.com agenda to Change.gov or did the future administration already have a change of heart?

Perhaps the more important sentiment expressed during this particular change to Change.gov was that supporters didn’t really understand what was happening to the site. Some digital commentators suggested that the Change.gov site require a change history, similar to a Wikipedia entry, chronicling anything added, removed, or updated.

While asking for that sort of visibility may seem excessive, it is not unrealistic considering the tone of Change.gov. The content of the site contains appealing phrases like “open government” and “it’s your America” that link to contact forms where visitors can share their vision and ideas for America to the forthcoming administration.

The problem is that Change.gov is not Change.org and it never can be. It has been suggested that elements of Change.org – a non-government website – would have been a better model for Change.gov. Herein lays the temptation of “open government” in a country that has existed as a representative democracy. Change.org is a non-government site run by the people. Change.gov is a government site that exists for the people. It is a subtle distinction yet one that should be clearly articulated by the impending Obama administration.

President-elect Obama not only faces tremendous known challenges in America, he embarks on a new journey as the first YouTube President. The ideas of Change.gov will likely soon become the realities of WhiteHouse.gov. With all the benefits of the Web, the Obama administration must have a strategy for balancing how to hear the voices of Americans through his “open government” initiative without being overrun by the tyranny of the mob.