New technology gives White House a wealth of outreach opportunites

Macon Phillips talks about his challenges as White House new media director

Macon Phillips, White House director of new media, shares one thing in common with many Web site administrators: He’s always looking for ways to increase traffic.

But he added, “I look for ways to increase traffic, not just from the public, but from inside the building,” referring to White House personnel. “The more we can make our online programs more relevant to our people every day, the better,” he said.

New media technology has brought a wide range of opportunities and disciplines to the White House, Phillips said in an on-stage dialogue with Washington public radio personality Kojo Nnamdi on Sept. 9 at the Gov 2.0 Summit.

Phillips said that one advantage of new media and social networking technologies has been the ability to communicate directly to the public. “It’s not just the ability to communicate,” he said, but “also to have more people become interested in government.” That, he hoped, would also result in more people holding the government accountable, he said.

“The private sector and the media are still critical for holding us accountable,” he added.

He also expressed surprise at the depth of expertise and innovation already under way in government among its more than 1,600 Web content managers.

“What I didn’t realize coming into government was the [work being done by] Web content managers or the CIOs who had been participating in this and were already making government tech-savvy,” he said.

He said one of the biggest problems he faces in his role is the “input-output” volume the White House must now deal with.

“There are only so many people in the White House,” he said, adding “We’re looking for tools to help us with this.”

He pointed to the success of Apps for Democracy, and similar contests that promote the development of publicly developed, open-source applications as a potential source for some of those tools.

His other surprise: “I’ve never been in a job where security is such a huge issue.”

He added that part of his efforts, and those of the White House, is to continue developing directives that deal with “a lot of the blanket resistance to new technologies.” He said that resistance is often rationalized by security concerns that actually stem from long-standing cultural practices of controlling information.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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