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A speedy presidential transition on the Web

The Internet age has spawned a new inaugural tradition: the incoming president wiping the White House website clean of almost all vestiges of the outgoing one.

Immediately after Barack Obama became president Tuesday, www.whitehouse.gov underwent its own presidential transition. The main photo, of former President George W. Bush saluting a U.S. Marine crew member after returning from Camp David on Sunday, disappeared. In its place was a rotating series of photos and statements from Obama. The first statement: “Change has come to America.”

“One of the first changes is the White House’s new website, which will serve as a place for the president and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world,” Macon Phillips, the Obama White House’s director of new media, wrote in a post on the site’s blog at 12:01 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a former Internet advisor to Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, said Obama’s quick switch of the website Tuesday showed his commitment to the Internet.

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“There’s symbolism in the fact that at the moment of the actual transition, the website changed as well,” he said. “Clearly they’re paying attention to the Internet as a primary way we’re going to work together.”

The site was redesigned, with more than two dozen new pages about Obama’s agenda, from civil rights to women’s issues. Biographies of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives also appeared.

Gone were the archives of Bush speeches, press briefings, announcements, videos and other news. All that was left was a five-paragraph biography, one of a series about past presidents, that gave a bare-bones summary of his eight years -- with no mention of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A slide show on presidential pets ends with Socks, President Clinton’s cat, failing to include Bush’s cat or two dogs -- even Barney, his Scottish terrier featured in a series of videos on Bush’s White House website.

“I think that every single person who’s been involved in the whitehouse.gov website has viewed it as a communication tool for the White House, not as a service site for the history of the presidency,” said Julie Barko Germany, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University.

After taking office in 2001, Bush wiped the site clean of Clinton administration material. The National Archives and Records Administration, which runs the presidential libraries, archived the contents of the Clinton website and most likely will do the same for Bush.

Phillips said the Obama administration has three online goals: communicating with Americans; providing transparency by posting all Obama’s executive orders and proclamations; and participation, including posting “all nonemergency legislation” on the site for five days for public review and comment before the president signs it.

There were limited avenues for feedback Tuesday. The new blog did not allow comments but offered a link to a 500-character box to send “questions, comments, concerns or well-wishes to the president or his staff.”

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Given Obama’s extensive use of the Internet and social networking during the campaign, Germany says she hopes the White House will add more interactivity. Phillips said the White House “online community will be a work in progress” and promised new features and content, soliciting ideas from the public.

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com


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