Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Politics Online Conference Day Two - Morning Plenary

9:40 a.m. The plenary morning event turned over to Waldo Tibbets (Assoc Publisher, Politico) - is a sponsor of the morning panel and largest distributed Hill publication. No #15 of newspaper based web sites and has only been in existence for 13 months. This morning's topic is "White House 2.0"

Ari Schwartz will moderate the panel discussion. He regularly testifies before Congress. The morning topic will explore the concept of a White House becoming regularly engaged online with its citizenry. How do we capture the tools being used in the current campaign and utilize them for the White House?

Tom Steinberg ( - They run the non-partisan democracy sites in the U.K. Sites like tell people who their politicians are, what they say, how they vote, what their vote means, and how constituents can get in touch with them.

Their politician pages are very popular and well-known by the politicians they cover. Obviously, this can be a thorn in their side. But, the site does very high level work with politicians. They are not thought of as "person non-grata." Their site has been evolving at the request of politicians and can now be used for submission and signature of online petitions.

If attendees walk away with anything from this session, realize that your White House can become 2.0 very quickly. Whoever wins, it is very likely the next president will want to implement these change to show, "Here is how we govern differently."

"Start the conversation today. Remind your government that can become that tool."

9:54 a.m. Ellen Miller (Sunlight Foundation) - "We have learned from mysociety's work." Sunlight is a marriage of wisdom and technology. Their goal is to digitize political information and allow ordinary citizens to digest it. They have over twenty integrated websites, most with the word "open" in their title. They developed a counterpart to called "Louis."

"Our job is to make the next president aware of the need to use online technologies. It is time for government to come into the information age. Transparency is a fundamental principal of democracy. We are only at the edge of this technology, moving forward."

Note to twitterphiles. Ellen is on Do you follow her? She just remembered that someone needs to send out a tweet that the conference has started. Not to worry. Someone already has.

10:01 a.m. Former Congressman Rick White - introduced as one of the most wired members of the House ever. "Using the Internet is a tricky subject. Constituents need to think about why a candidate is utilizing the Internet. Technology is important to us, but it's going to take a while for the technology to register at the voting booth. Until it does, technology isn't going to matter very much to the candidates." Therefore, he thinks we are only going to be able to make glacier-like progress. Movement forward is going to be extremely slow.

"Recognize that a technology policy will exist, but it will be slow. But if someone in the White House would become very excited about the technology and would take a risk," he would like to see a Wiki Budget process. He wonders what we would end up with. "That would be very interesting to see."

Mentioned that an internal CIA wiki process already exists. "It would be great to see government experiment in that area," he says.

An interesting aside: originally, they thought the technology of the Internet would revolutionize the political process. It did not. Hopes that the next administration doesn't look for ways to use the technology as a sword, rather, it should be used as a helpful device for the citizenry to work with its politicians on issues like trade, immigration, etc.

10:07 a.m. David Almacy ( and VP of Digital Strategies, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide) - David was the third Internet Director of the White House. He reflects on how the White House has grown over time. will have a place in history as the first White House site. "Interesting to look at for the purpose of seeing where technology was back in that day. At the time, it was very forward thinking."

"Enter the year 2000. How does digital technology change the way politicians interact with their constituents and move legislation forward? Blogs and podcasts did not exist back then. Cell phones were not used to catch pictures on the sly. Google was barely a blip on the radar screen. Most Internet access was dial-up."

My, how cyberspace has changed.

His role in the White House in 2005 was as a visionary for the Internet and liason to bloggers. He spent five years at CSPAN and used this experience to formulate a public position. First: would be reserved as the President's site. For more information about unrelated activities on the Hill or cabinet departments, the site provided links.

Second: would be used as an archive of the President's activities.

Third: the website would be a repository of history for people who want to research America and the President.

David suggested a redesign of and this was done in the year 2007. Also, since the White House website is a taxpayer funded entity, they cannot provide direct links to sites like Digg, Technorati, YouTube, etc. Social networking is encouraged, but it has to be done by individuals who drop by.

A strong tool on is "Ask the White House." This link actually communicates with the President. People can submit questions directly and get answers. News and feeds, radio address feeds, all of these were established based upon the success of this tool. A funny interactive tool they developed was the "BarneyCam," about a 3-minute long video of a web cam strapped to the President's dog, Barney, during the holidays. Eight million people viewed the original video.

Here is a 2006 episode:

BarneyCam's tremendous success spurred much interest. Lots of people at the White House wanted to be featured, especially President Bush. The President's episode had extremely low viewing stats, not because it didn't attract viewers. They gave up control of the episode by allowing it to be hosted at sites such as YouTube and embedded on news sites and blogs. David recognized the value of this approach and began providing more emphasis on multimedia for all of the President’s events. Comparing whether it was better for more people to see the video or for them to have more page views at, David chose distribution. This has become the preferred method to broadcast White House messages online.

As part of the President’s E-Gov initiative, the Office of Management and Budget developed digital tagging of papers passed around Congress and the White House. Earlier this year, President Bush electronically distributed the 2009 budget to Congress with his digital signature. The eBudget was validated and authenticated when received by Congress. Another digital first. Yes, the White House continues to churn paper, but the digital tagging is real progress.

In his opinion, the President will never blog. Why? Because all he has to do is schedule a news conference and speak into a microphone. However, he thinks the White House should hire a paid person to maintain a blog. The time has come.

10:29 a.m. Time for the questions. This blogger takes a time out.

Update 3.6.08: David Almacy is kind of enough to e-mail with the following information:

As a result of the digital tagging initiative, the GPO and GAO are now moving toward paperless production of government legislation and executive documents. This will save countless trees and future resources.

David further notes the success of external wikis wherein the executive branch publishes internal data under the mandates of the Coburn/Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, and citizens are encouraged to provide feedback. These include accountability for government spending,earmarks, and agency regulations.

Finally, with respect to BarneyCam:

BCam V in 2006 was the last one I worked on and where we employed the best use of digital tactics on We offered three video formats, a behind the scenes "making of" photo essay, HTML text version of the script and audio MP3 downloads of the BCam soundtrack uniquely arranged and performed by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band (also avail in WH Room on iTunes).
Thanks, David. I hope this information encourages readers to catch all the episodes and motivate future White House occupants to build upon your success.