Watch Out Avril, Here Comes Obama

By Josh Catone
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There has been a lot of chatter about whether US President-Elect Barack Obama, whose campaign for the White House took great advantage of social media sites, would use his web savvy to become the first so-called “Web 2.0 President.” There’s also been debate about what that might mean, exactly.

One thing that people have suggested Obama do is continue to use his ultra-popular YouTube channel to communicate with the American public, and the world. Today, he announced that he will do just that, according to the Washington Post. Obama will begin video recording his weekly presidential radio address and posting it on YouTube shortly after it airs on the radio. In addition, the next US president will also conduct online interviews and hold question and answer sessions via the video sharing site.

“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,” writes the Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas.

That’s actually already begun. Last night, transition team co-chair Valerie Jarrett posted a video update on the transition web site using YouTube.

Obama’s weekly web videos are an updated version of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats,” conducted via radio in the 1930s. When Roosevelt took office in the 30s, America was in the midst of an economic depression and he had a need to communicate with the American people on a regular basis. Radio technology, which was fairly new at the time, offered an innovative way to do so. For the first time, Americans could actually hear the voice of their president speaking directly to them in their homes — they didn’t have to wait to read a transcript or an account in the next day’s newspaper.

It could certainly be argued that Obama has a similar need to communicate directly with the people given the current worldwide financial crisis. Online video streaming is one of the most recent communication innovations, and like radio or television, it allows people to see and hear the president in their homes. Unlike radio or television, however, it is on demand, it is worldwide, and it allows watchers to post an immediate response — it’s a two-way medium. What Obama does to embrace the read/write nature of social media sites is yet to be established.

That Obama is embracing YouTube as part of his presidency is no surprise. He’s posted over 1,800 videos to the side and racked up over 110 million views. He also already said that he planned to hold YouTube “fireside chats” during a YouTube interview about a year ago. Obama will actually be continuing a “Web 2.0-ization” of the White House that current US President George Bush started during his presidency. Bush offers RSS feeds, podcasts, and videos of daily press briefings from the White House web site.

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  • randywehrs

    A government forum straight to the president on the internet, accessible to everyone, sounds like a huge upgrade to me. This is the stuff history is made of. Forget about web 2.0, this takes the internet straight to version 3.0 …

  • roosevelt

    I am flattered to see my name in a sitepoint article :p… Youtube certainly is one of the best ways to reach today’s youth.

    I don’t know what is history any more… but U.S president putting his thoughts out there for the world to see, that’s something. Which other president did something like that since the dawn of the internet?

  • israelisassi

    Isn’t this similar to what Ross Perot wanted to do?

  • Glad to see it happening– this could be a real tool to streamline information dissemination rather than allowing major media outlets to disseminate white house news …

  • Anonymous

    Sorry did I mis-read the article? Didn’t it say that Bush ALREADY does this? So, Obama will not be ‘making history’ in this respect…

  • roosevelt

    how many of us know bush does something like that? I certainly didn’t!

  • @Anonymous: No, Bush doesn’t already do this. I was just giving credit where it is due. Bush (or his staff, at least) has brought the White House web site at least part way into the Web 2.0 era with things like RSS feeds and posted videos of press briefings. Obama is continuing that trend by taking further and using a user generated content/social media site like YouTube.

    US presidents have been doing a weekly radio address for many years. But none have taped it for YouTube. Obama won’t really be doing anything new with the actual address (at least, nothing has been announced), but he is doing something new in how it is distributed by using an on-demand, two-way medium such as video sharing.

  • pje

    I totally agree.

  • Klas

    I don’t understand why Avril is mentioned in the title of this article, but nowhere in the body? Is there a popular reference I am missing?

  • >>Isn’t this similar to what Ross Perot wanted to do?

    Yes, but Perot had an idea to bring what we would now call “social community” to government, with citizens voting directly, town-hall style, on various issues.

    >>Sorry did I mis-read the article? Didn’t it say that Bush ALREADY does this? So, Obama will not be ‘making history’ in this respect…

    His White House did some–not all–of the things the Obama administration will do, but did not make a big deal out of it. Most people didn’t know they could subscribe to a White House RSS feed, for example.

    I think it’s potentially a great thing, if the White House staff actually pays attention to the commentary and so forth. Whether all the YouTubing and interactivity actually gets anyone’s attention in the corridors of power remains to be seen. I do know that Obama’s campaign staff paid close attention to the discussions on the Daily Kos (Obama himself posted there once, in 2005), and sometimes contributed their own comments and posts. So the propensity for keeping an ear tuned to the Web community is already there.

  • israelisassi

    This concept reminds me of the phrase “throw the dog a bone”.

  • antiquerze

    This concept reminds me of “useless” :-) Sorry folks I just don’t see why is this so important..!? It won’t change anything, will it? Just lead the country well and I’m fine.

  • anonymous

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but I think it mentions avril because it’s the most viewed youtube video in all times