It's The Economy ... Site

We Asked Area Web Designers To Size Up Obama's New Recovery.gov

March 10, 2009|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,andrew.ratner@baltsun.com

When he addressed Congress and a prime-time audience about the economic recovery plan, President Barack Obama made a point of highlighting a new Web site his administration created called recovery.gov, "so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent."

It's the most innovative example so far of Obama using the Internet to change governing, which was anticipated after the success he had in using it to help build support to win the presidency. His naming last week of Vivek Kundra, the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia, as the first chief information officer for the federal government, is seen as buttressing that effort.

Macon Phillips, the director of new media for the White House, said the site will become more valuable as more data become available from the recovery program.

"Recovery.gov is a groundbreaking effort that's involved a lot of groups within government," said Phillips, who also worked on Internet strategies for Obama during the campaign. "One of the most exciting parts for me has been working with career government employees who are really challenging themselves and getting the opportunity to try out a lot of new ideas."

We asked Web designers and strategists to kick the tires on the new site. In general, they were impressed with its detail and user-friendliness, but they also offered pointers to keep it from becoming an online "brochure" for the administration. That will be the ultimate test: whether democratic government can credibly report on its progress in a way the public would accept as more than spin, regardless of how sharp the Web site looks.

The suggestion box

I learned of and Twittered about the recovery.gov site last week. At the time, it was in reaction to another threaded conversation I was having with fellow Baltimorean Tracy Gosson about getting money from the economic stimulus package to fund better/more power outlets in public places and private "pit stops" for laptop users. My complaint about it at this point is that there was no clear place on the site that I could find for me to submit any of my suggestions. I didn't really assess it for look/feel, but I can say that I felt frustrated being sent there and then not finding what I wanted. Regardless, I do think it's great that the president of the U.S. wants to give the citizens a direct line to such information. This is (once again) precedent-setting, and I think that's really, well, cool!

- Hollis Thomases

President

Web Ad.vantage, Baltimore online marketing company

The tracking

At this point, it is not much more than a brochure site. What they need is real-time tracking of the information such as geographic maps of distribution, performance and change over time. We specialize in performance visualization and have a product, edualizer.com, that would be brilliant to visualize where all the money is going and its effectiveness over time.

- Todd Marks

Technical specialist and founder

Mindgrub Technologies, Oella Internet app designer

The data

What I see when looking at the site is the timeline for reporting of information and then some very big, macro level analysis of what is being spent. Great start! However, what we need on the site is the ability to get to the raw data. Where and how things are being spent and the impact.

- Matt Madigan

Director, operations

FortiusOne, Arlington, Va., Web data

analysis

THE LOOK

The tone of recovery.gov is more conservative than Obama's campaign site. ... The color palette has shifted to a more subtle pairing of royal blue with grays, golds and variations on the blues that dominated his campaign site. ... Where it may lack in vibrancy, it shines in its use of interactive elements. ... All in all, it is an exceptional start to what will be a very important Web site.

---- Matthew DeVille

Creative director

G.1440, Baltimore information technology consultant

THE LANGUAGE

Overall site is very good. ... The target audience for this site is "everyman/woman" - so the slightly low-tech, friendly overall look mixed with the simple navigation is a big success for me. Plus - the language is really simple. "Where is Your Money Going?" - not trying to be too smart, clever or political. ... One criticism: There isn't a strong sense of other voices, or resources for other community or local resources. ... For example - are there any members of the Cabinet or recovery plan that can be followed on Twitter or who have blogs? Otherwise - great start.

----Tracey Halvorsen

Creative director and co-founder

Fastspot, Baltimore Web designer

THE SUBSTANCE

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