Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Change comes to the White House and to Whitehouse.gov

Barack Obama has 4,117,238 friends on Facebook.

That number only makes up 6 percent of the total number of people who voted for him in 2008, but it’s a very important 6 percent.

Barack Obama has exactly 144,000 followers on Twitter, a number so precise, it either represents an artificial system limit or constitutes proof of biblical prophecy.

Obama is the most popular person on Twitter, a fact that says more about his demographic appeal, and more about the future of this country, than any poll number I can think of.

Facebook has gone mainstream, but Twitter is the digital frontier. Twitter users are movers, shakers and alpha-consumers. These folks are the future of the Internet and the future of the country, and if Obama doesn’t speak their language, someone on his staff certainly does.

Judging by how skillfully Obama has managed his digital footprint, I’d say quite a few members of his staff understand the Internet – not just as a communication tool, but as a cultural touchstone.

We can give the Obama campaign credit for how well they’ve handled their Internet presence, but I think the cart has pulled the horse this time. Obama attracted a young, Internet-savvy demographic to his cause and those people rushed to volunteer for his campaign.

Most of the praise belongs to Macon Phillips, the White House director of new media.

Whatever you think of Obama’s politics, you have to give the administration credit for top-notch Web design.

Whitehouse.gov has been the same for 10 years – dozens of tiny menu items crammed into long skinny columns – one of the most conventional, and most boring sites on the Web.

Phillips’ design sends a strong visual message; breaking out of the traditional 3-column mode, filling the screen with a side-to-side features box that puts the choices in front of you: 1, 2, 3, 4.

This demonstrates a welcome reversal from the Web trends we’ve been slaves to for the past 15 years. For years, our goal has been to pack as much information as possible into the space of a single screen. Dozens of menu items, hundreds of choices, layered and listed and jammed together in an overwhelming jumble of information.

A fine strategy in 1996, when the Web was new and sites wanted to advertise how comprehensive they were. But now it’s 2009 and we’re facing the opposite problem: so much information that most users, confronted with a wall of menu options, will just click on a random item and give up.

Whitehouse.gov gives you four choices – four core messages that the administration wants to deliver. Visitors with specific requests can drill down into the site map.

A site that provides 50 choices runs the risk of overwhelming visitors or driving them away. But four is a number we can understand. I wish every site on the Internet would follow this example. Pick the four most important things your organization needs to communicate and say those things first, in big, colorful displays.

It’s particularly smart for a political organization. Narrow the agenda to four things that people can remember, four things that they care about most.

Whitehouse.gov has a blog, of course, but it’s nothing particularly special.

Obama may be the first president to appeal to the Overshare Generation, but he’s still governing in a paranoid, top-down culture.

The first true “Internet President” will have a personal blog. Not a ghost-written public relations vehicle, but a blog, where the president will write in an authentic first-person voice and communicate directly with the American people.

I’m waiting for the first true “Fireside Blog” – for a president who’s not afraid to get personal and talk to us. A presidential blog could be used to rally supporters, explain complicated vetoes or maybe just to tell funny stories heard on the campaign trail.

Who knows, it might even allow comments.

Written by Michael B. Duff

January 23, 2009 at 11:16

Posted in Politics

4 Responses

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  1. “Fireside Blog…”

    I like it!

    The Obama campaign hired the best internet folks from the Dean and Kerry campaigns, plus a lot of up-and-coming talent. I think the Dems will have the advantage in internet content up and down the ticket for several more election cycles…

    Kenny Ketner

    January 23, 2009 at 13:46

  2. “Twitter users are movers, shakers and alpha-consumers.”

    And modest too!


    February 5, 2009 at 11:06

  3. I actually cut a paragraph where I talked about how I’m using Twitter wrong.

    I need to do another column about how people get to a certain level of comfort with Internet tools and stop.

    I stopped at MySpace. Younger people adopted it, swarmed it, and moved to Facebook.

    I don’t use Facebook right, either.

    Twitter users are actually moving in a faster lane than I am, Internet-wise.

    Older folks come on and use these technologies, but they’re used as afterthoughts and novelties.

    We don’t integrate them into our lives the way younger generations do.

    For most people, Internet “innovation” stopped with email.

    Anyway, that line is slightly less arrogant when you realize I don’t consider myself “one of them.”

    I’m actually a Livejournal guru, but Livejournal is actually something to be ashamed of now.

    It’s been replaced by Tumbler, which isn’t nearly as cool or as well-developed, but has a much hotter user base.

    Michael Duff

    February 5, 2009 at 13:07

  4. Hi, I can


    March 2, 2009 at 18:10

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