As soon as President Obama was inaugurated this week, a shiny new version of the whitehouse.gov website was launched, replete with blog and RSS feeds, an indication of the new administration’s intent to make full use of the internet.
Whitehouse.gov has a slicker look and feel, with a red, white and blue colour scheme on a mainly white background:
The Prime Minister’s website, by contrast, has more of a blog-style look, not that this is a bad thing:
Both homepages are well laid out, with plenty of white background making the text readable, and the navigation links are clear to understand. While Obama’s web team has gone for drop down menus to show sub-categories, Number10 has managed to do without them which, though it reduces the number of navigation option on the page, is better for the user experience, as drop-downs can be fiddly.
News / blogs
Much has been made of the fact that President Obama has a blog, and it is a promising step, but we will have to wait and see how much time he has to write regular posts and speak directly to his electorate through the blog, or whether it will just consist of news and policy updates written by his team.
Number10.gov has a news section rather than a blog which, with its Delicious, Digg and Facebook buttons, looks more like a blog than Obama’s. It has been going longer, and though it provides useful updates on the Prime Minister’s statements, what was said at PM’s Questions, it doesn’t look like Gordon Brown writes on it himself.
Another significant feature of most blogs is missing on both sites: the ability to comment on articles. I can appreciate the size of the task for the moderator on either site, but allowing people to comment but they can always be pre-moderated, and it would provide a useful channel for communication between politicians and the public.
Both sites are big on this, and have set up dedicated sections for visitors to view videos. A couple of different videos, including the President’s Inaugural Address, are promoted on the White House homepage, while another section has been set aside for Obama’s weekly video address.
On the PM’s website the video content has been gathered in the Number10 TV section:
The video player and related content is well presented, but there is a limited amount of content on there, and it is not searchable, so if you’re looking for PMQs from last December, you’re out of luck. Having said that, the YouTube channel, along with Twitter and Facebook accounts, are prominently promoted throughout the site, and Number10 has a YouTube channel with hundreds of videos.
With no comments available on the blogs or news sections of either site, there is limited scope for communication between both leaders and the voters. Obama says he is “committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history”, so we will have to wait and see whether any means of communicating directly with the public is provided on the website.
As for Number10, it has a section headed ‘communicate‘ which provides three options, ask the PM, from the PM, and e-petitions:
The ‘from the PM’ option is a newsletter signup, which isn’t exactly a two-way channel, while the e-petitions have questionable value as they are open to abuse from all kinds of pressure groups, or campaigns like ‘Jeremy Clarkson for PM‘.
The ask the PM option is more promising though, as it allows people to ask the Prime Minister direct questions by posting YouTube videos, which Brown responds to. Questions are probably cherry-picked by the PM’s team, but it is still a good use of social media.
Obama’s campaign team used Twitter in his election campaign to put up notices of upcoming rallies, new videos on his website, and notices about his policies. This Twitter activity ended abruptly the day after he was elected, and had no further activity until a couple of entries this week. Whether Obama intends to become more active on the microblogging service while serving as President remains to be seen.
Downing Street also has a Twitter account, which is updated by the PM’s head of digital communications Mark Flanagan, who seems to put more effort into Twitter than Obama’s team, with regular updates, as well as actually bothering to reply to questions from other Twitter users.
Graham Charlton is Senior Reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.