Saturday, June 02, 2007

Flash Flood


This is a story that perhaps only I will care about, but -- in light of the increasingly prominent role that government websites play in informing the public -- I would say that the recent digital make-over of the White House home page may have larger ramifications as a signpost for online political rhetoric than it may initially appear.

First off, there is an obvious switch to what I would call the "Flash aesthetic" at one of the last bastions of the nineties-style government web page. Although the code for the page itself is still in relatively disability-friendly and searchable HTML, Javascript, and CSS, there's no mistaking the visual references. Rounded corners, drop shadows, and widgets designed to take you to more content are all signifiers of this bells and whistles proprietary software package. Now, I have nothing against Flash personally -- having built things like this, this, and this (in progress) in the software that take advantage of its small file size and flexible ActionScript, but I do find myself resisting its default settings and presentation conventions that I think lead to extremely dumbed down websites.

Second, and more important, the search engine seems to have become noticeably less comprehensive, since it is now dependent on a set repertoire of keywords. For example, at a recent job talk at UC Irvine, a literary scholar of the Middle Ages pointed out how White House speeches and press conferences use the word "medieval" as a derogatory term for their opponents in a self-proclaimed war on terror. Yet, a search for the term doesn't bring up the results that he describes, although it does produce some regrettable FOIA e-mails about global warming. Having conducted searches on the White House website in the past, I've noticed several of my favorite oddities disappearing, although one can still find Presidential signing statements that assert the power of the Executive to nullify congressional legislation by plugging in the word "construe."

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