Obama Team Finds Use For Technology In Transition

This story was written by Hon Lung Chu, The Duke Chronicle
Just as he promised during his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama is delivering "change we can believe in"-Change.gov.

Obama's transition team launched its official Web site, Change.gov, within 24 hours of the Nov. 4 election. The Web site features a newsroom, a blog, a full agenda of the president-elect and a weekly YouTube video address to the nation.

According to the Web site, "Change.gov provides resources to better understand the transition process and the decisions being made as part of it. It also offers an opportunity to be heard about the challenges our country faces and your ideas for tackling them."

Owen Astrachan, Duke Universityprofessor of the practice of computer science and co-director of undergraduate studies for the department, said the Web site will help make the transition more transparent and allow people to find legislative information with greater ease.

"My guess is that you can find that [kind of information] going through some congressional sites," he said. "Now it's in one place-it's a portal. Will more people get the information? Well, that seems like a no-brainer."

Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science, said it is a good sign that Obama is comfortable using technology that allows him to reach a large number of people in the United States and abroad in a short period of time. He added, however, that the digital divide is still present in a large part of the country, and some people might not have equal access to the information released via the Internet.

Political Science Professor Paula McClain said she agrees that YouTube or other forms of communication on the Internet will not become the dominant mode of communication between the President and the American people.

"Some people, primarily older individuals, still like to pick up a paper or a magazine or a journal and read," she wrote in an e-mail. "I know I do."

But Astrachan said the digital divide should not prevent information from being made available online.

"I mean, it's not 'Everyone can see it, or no one can see it,'" he said.

Others, however, are more skeptical of how much the site reflects Obama's promise of change during the presidential campaign.

"Presidents communicate with people to gain support," said David Rohde, Ernestine Friedl professor of political science. "I don't know if this will be different. Nobody knows."

The weekly YouTube video address has received praise from the online community, with more than 860,000 views since it was posted last Saturday. In the address, Obama urged Congress to pass this week's plans to help the U.S. economy endure the current crisis. A second address, posted this past Tuesday, addresses his plans for combating climate change.

Duke College Republicans Chair Vikram Srinivasan, a junior, said whether Obama can deliver his promises will be dependent on more than a YouTube address, and real change will involve reaching across the aisle to form bipartisan bills and proposals.

"I don't think the content [of the Web site] was particularly insightful," he said. "You're just going to have to wait until January."

Duke Democrats President Ben Bergmann, a sophomore, said Obama's effective use of technology is a good sign that he will enact significant changes in the next four years to help America regain its competitiveness and increase its technological innovation.

Astrachan was impressed by the availability of a high-definition version of the YouTube address on Change.gov, which allowed him to clearly see the objects behind Obama.

"I mean, he's got this basketball, and it's signed by Lenny Wilkens! Ho cool is that?"
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