Watch Out Avril, Here Comes Obama

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

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.