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Adapting YouTube, Facebook and MySpace to Governing

By Ed O'Keefe

UPDATE 11/14/08 6:43 a.m. ET: The Post's Jose Antonio Vargas scoops that, as many have expected for awhile, President Obama will continue to record the traditional Saturday Morning Radio Address, then post video of the address on YouTube. In addition to regularly videotaping the radio address, officials at the transition office say the Obama White House will also conduct online Q&As and video interviews. The goal, officials say, is to put a face on government. In the following weeks, for example, senior members of the transition team, various policy experts and choices for the Cabinet, among others, will record videos for


One of the first things The Eye learned as he began his new beat is that many federal workers have felt undervalued, under-appreciated and frustrated in recent years about the lack of innovation and creativity allowed in the workplace.

"Front-line employees have a really good idea of how to do the work of the federal government better," says Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "Current employees and potential employees are looking for a way to put their ideas to work."

So today we establish a way for federal workers to channel those creative juices by launching an occasional series of reports called "What Would You Do?" We'll take a trend or emerging idea being discussed around Washington and throw it open to discussion. A few days later we'll post the best ideas in a follow-up post.

Let's first explore how the Obama Administration can adapt the social networking Web sites and tools it used during the campaign to governing. The Obama campaign earned wide praise for its expert use of YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. Experts, observers and the folks who run those Web sites agree (and in some cases hope) that the Obama Administration will adapt those technologies to governing and use them to interact with Americans and the world.

“Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media," The Post’s Matt Mosk and Shailagh Murray reported on Monday. The campaign has more than 10 million e-mail addresses – a valuable asset it once considered using as collateral for a loan.

"I think there's going to be media outreach, like letters to the editors," Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital said of the Obama administration's use of e-mail. "Or fighting back against the inevitable smears."

"Imagine if back in 1992, when there was a pile-on in the Clinton years, if you'd had an engaged and informed group of people able to fight back," he added.

Besides e-mail, what other new tools could the Obama presidency use?

“I think it’s undoubtedly the case that this will be the first administration that will have a White House YouTube channel," says YouTube's news and politics director Steve Grove. "I think the administration will do well to take the transparency they fostered in their campaign and bring it to governance. Just how they do this will be interesting to see."

"I think the most important thing Obama could do is make government more proactive," says Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "Right now the common approach to governance is to wait until people and ask for something and then you give them information or services. West prefers a proactive approach and has established a ranking system to measure state and federal Web sites for things like ease of access, security, online services provided, interactivity and multimedia. His report released earlier this year gives top marks to the Web sites for Delaware, Georgia and Florida. Similarly and the Web sites of the Department of Agriculture and General Services Administration score at the top of Federal rankings.

Here are a few other real world examples of how government agencies and political leaders are using the Web to get the word out and provide services:

  • hosted a town hall meeting in China earlier this year with former British prime minister Tony Blair and his Tony Blair Faith Foundation. "We’re currently reaching out to politicians at every level. It’s an ongoing process," says MySpace political director Lee Brenner. “I think eventually you’re going to see every person running for office make [MySpace] a major core part of their strategy.” While there have been no direct discussions, Brenner says MySpace is open to hosting regular Q&A sessions with President Obama or other government officials.
  • Just two weeks ago the State Department's YouTube channel launched "Your Chance to Ask a Question: Briefing 2.0." Spokesman Sean McCormack asks YouTube users to submit questions about U.S. foreign policy and he then answers some of the queries during a regularly scheduled press briefing. The next Briefing 2.0 is scheduled for Nov. 20, according to the YouTube channel (Submit your questions here).
  • Mosk and Murray reported that the Obama Administration could use “geo-targeting” to run online ads in congressional districts where members remain undecided on legislation important to the president. The president could also use Web ads to solicit support for petitions or use such ads to explain proposals.
  • is a Facebook for state and federal government employees. (The Eye is a GovLoop member -- make sure to friend him!) Maybe this is a good way to improve intra-agency communications? Or is it already? (Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.)

So what would you do? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or e-mail

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 13, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  What Would You Do?  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Eye Opener: Nov. 13, 2008
Next: The Plum Book: How Do I Apply for a Job?


One issue you will have is that currently in DoD outside email accounts from Yahoo, Comcast, FIOS, are blocked from access from government computers. The same goes for Youtube, Facebook and MySpace. This is done to prevent or impede the introduction of viruses into the network.

Posted by: ronjaboy | November 13, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I believe the White House ought to have its own website for posting videos in the internet.

If someone puts them in YouTube or such ones, it shouldn't be an official act.

Posted by: ElMugroso | November 14, 2008 11:08 PM | Report abuse

The federal government should run its own media service. The entire operation would run like a web host (server, security, streaming, audio) with separate accounts for all government entities. Running the entire operation from one location is more cost effective then individual agencies attempting to establish and operate their own web services. The government talent pool is extensive, varied, experienced and engaged in new technology. With our talent pool it is mind boggling what we could accomplish.

Posted by: pat20 | November 19, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

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