Home » copyright » Obama: The Future of Government and Participatory Culture

Obama: The Future of Government and Participatory Culture

Like so many people both in the United States and around the globe, I was heartened by Barack Obama’s inauguration address which was filled with hope, but tempered by reiteration of the work ahead but more than anything Obama’s eloquence and oratory skill reminded us all that the disastrous and embarrassing era of George W Bush is finally over.

In terms of digital culture, Obama’s inauguration was a truly online event, from live-streaming from news services and even inside Facebook, to the active engagement and discussion by the people formerly know as the audience on a multitude of many platforms, with micro-blogging sites like Twitter seeing more than five times their normal load.

Obama’s government had already shown commitment to open access and a meaningful engagement with the public across the internet, something highlighted with Obama’s transitional Change.gov using a Creative Commons license.

So, it was incredibly heartening to see these early signs impressively built upon in the first day of Obama’s government.  As the official website Whitehouse.gov shifted to the new administration, the first blog post promised a new era of participation and transparency, built on three simple principles:

Communication — Americans are eager for information about the state of the economy, national security and a host of other issues. This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated. Check out the briefing room, keep tabs on the blog (RSS feed) and take a moment to sign up for e-mail updates from the President and his administration so you can be sure to know about major announcements and decisions.
Transparency — President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.
Participation — President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

At the same time, the new WhiteHouse.gov copyright statement reinforces these ideas, affirming the law which sees Federal government material placed here automatically in the public domain (not a new law, I should add), while third-party material (such as people’s comments, etc) will adhere to a Creative Commons Attribution license:

Pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected. The United States Government may receive and hold copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This symbolic gesture has been celebrated by the Creative Commons team and Creative Commons CEo Joi Ito alike.

Indeed, as Jason Kottke observes, even the robot.txt file on Whitehouse.gov (the file which tells search engine what they can, and what they can’t index) has gone from over 2400 restrictions under the Bush administration to only one restriction under Obama.

On a more grassroots level, Nancy Baym over at Online Fandom notes “One thing I love about my new President is that he inspires his followers to create in ways that erase the boundaries between politics and fandom”. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say, borrowing from Larry Lessig, Obama may very well be the Remix President. (If you want an easy way to join in, and don’t mind being a little tacky, you can always create your own pictures and photos in the style of Obama’s Hope Poster over at Obamicon.) Given all these positive changes, it seems only fitting to end this post with the Obama remix video, Fire it Up 2.0 from RX:

While there is a lot to do and huge expectations to live up to, I have very high hopes for Obama and his administration.  On the digital front, I hope that the early promise of participation lasts the length of Obama’s presidency and beyond, something Australia’s initially internet-savvy Rudd government has largely failed to do. Change: it’s a message that really does work when it includes everybody for the long haul.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. The inauguration of Barack Obama has become the occasion for a tidal wave of media-orchestrated delusions and stupidities designed to overwhelm and chloroform public consciousness. The junior senator from Illinois is being compared, and is comparing himself, to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. An observer of the wall-to-wall coverage of the events leading up to Obama’s swearing in as president might think he was witnessing nothing less than the second coming.

    Such events are always repellent to those who retain their critical faculties. But the hoopla inevitably exhausts itself and what remains after the litter is swept away is reality—in this case the coming to power of the man who will preside over the most reactionary state in the world, under conditions of an unprecedented crisis of American and world capitalism. The policies of the Obama administration will be determined not by media image-making or hollow rhetoric, but by the imperatives of the crisis and the social interests which Obama represents.

    Reading the transcript of Obama’s inaugural speech was like reading a J.R.R. Tolkien history of US foreign policy, as if they are hobbits battling the forces of Sauron. Ironically racism underscores the entire thing—the millions slaughtered by the US during the ‘Cold War’ can be conveniently left unmentioned, because they are essentially treated as untermenschen within political discourse.

    There appears to be two dominant religions in the US, Christianity and Americanism—belief in the latter requires a fairytale view of American history, and its holy texts are updated each year by Hollywood.

    Obama and his administration are real enemies of the working class—there will be a lot of very disappointed people this year.

    • Frank, while it will take a great deal of Obama to live up to the expectations he carries in office, I’m still optimistic, myself.

Comments are closed.