Friday, January 01, 2010

The 2009 Foley Awards

When Barack Obama became the forty-fourth president of the United States, several people told me that I would no longer have a reason to hand out my annual awards for the worst government websites, which I had announced with great pomp and circumstance in 2006, 2007, and 2008, because we finally had a Chief Executive who understands the rhetoric of the World Wide Web.

Sadly, wishing that bad websites will wither away in a dreamed-of utopian future seems to be somewhat like Marxists believing that the state itself will wither away when the worker's paradise comes. In 2009 there were plenty of awards to give out for regrettable examples of digital communication from the virtual state.

The Wishful Thinking Award

To show that the web offerings of the Obama administration aren't necessarily that much better, check out, an abstinence-education website that actually dates from the Bush administration. Unfortunately, Obama staffers have chosen to maintain the message with only slight updates to its contraception ignorance rhetoric.

Worst Government Website for Children

Over the years, web materials from Homeland Security regularly have been recognized by this blog for their failed efforts at effective risk communication. The kids' pages for have managed to be consistently terrible for a number of years, and the addition of branded characters from Sesame Street do nothing either to address the psychology of young children or the needs of older children for research materials about national security issues.

The Worst Functionality Prize turned out to be a real clunker in 2009 to address the combined economic stimulus/environmental clean-up program aimed at taking high-emissions vehicles off the road and replacing them with new models to help out the ailing automobile industry. Sadly information on the site was often incomplete, system crashes derailed data entry procedures and online forms, and the verbal and visual rhetoric of the website itself -- much like the program it represented -- was jumbled.

Worst Government Twitter Feed

The worst tendencies of both microblogging and the so-called Government 2.0 movement are on display at the GovGab Twitter feed, which consistently fails to deliver its message within the 140 character count required by the site and phrases its communication with an idiotic folksiness that includes fake personalization about new year's resolutions and puppies and stupid colloquialisms and rhetorical questions. Genuinely painful to read and indeed it appears from the lack of comments on related blog posts, few do.

Worst Government Blog

The Obama administration has generally been better than the Bush administration at presenting the genre of the official blog, but the CEO's blog from the Millenium Challenge Corporation may be an example of someone rising to a level of incompetence. The dreary updates from this former U.S. Bank executive seem to be written by someone who has never read a blog much less authored one. Terrible corporate prose about listening and teamwork, bad photographs, ill thought-out metadata, and not a single comment in months of posting (despite an elaborate policy about comments) indicates a blog worth pulling the plug on.

Worst Government YouTube Performance

Tech people often have great reputations for their public speaking abilities in the era of online video and demo rhetoric for product launches and fans of corporate brands. But the Obama tech team was justifiably lampooned on Comedy Central for this regrettable tongue-tied performance full of awkward pauses.

Worst Government YouTube Channel

The YouTube channel of does not allow viewers to repurpose the content by downloading clips for themselves. I'll overlook the fact that their message about free speech, ethnic diversity, and love for youth culture is full of truisms that can also be found in the pablum about the Internet itself, but if you are a propaganda channel, don't you want to make sure that you are actually encouraging people to distribute your propaganda? This is a message that the British government understood in the public diplomacy realm, by creating a mechanism to distribute B-roll to news broadcasters around the world. Why is this a message that the U.S. is incapable of learning because of its continuing resistance to remix culture?

Worst Government-Funded Online Game

River City was a confused idea for a science education game to begin with, but this confession of failure as a result of being dependent on a Second Life-style virtual world start-up is just excruciating to read.

Overall Worst Government Website has so many bad things to recommend it for the top prize for badness this year: treacly holiday e-cards about infectious disease, the frequently outdated Google map with hypodermic syringes marking possible flu shot locations, and a total failure to address the anti-vaccination movement with an effective counter-rhetoric all place it in the award category.



Blogger bashley said...

Provocative post. I'm a gov20 proponent, but equally a supporter of well-meaning, sensitive criticism. A close critical eye on the gov20 scene is important and much needed.

Naturally, I wonder sometimes, how gov20 initiatives can improve their rhetorical efforts. No easy answer I suppose.

Thanks for the effort you put into these Foley awards.

bob ashley

5:07 AM  

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