The White House’s website, whitehouse.gov, has always been the home for information about the United States government. However, the design of the web page, as well as the information available, has changed dramatically throughout the years. I used the Wayback Machine to access two different versions of whitehouse.gov, one from 1999 and one and from 2012. The differences in web design are striking, although not surprising. The website launched in 1994 under the Clinton Administration and remained more or less the same from 1994 to 1999. However, as the Internet grew and the way people used it changed, so too did whitehouse.gov. Under the Obama Administration, the White House had a much more interactive, user-friendly web page. The White House’s audience will always be the American people. However, as times changed, so did the information made readily available to the American people. Although the 1999 version of whitehouse.gov contained useful information, the web page in 2012 was more appealing and informative.
The front page of the 1999 web page is not overly exciting. It features a white background, several hyperlinks, and a blurry image of the White House with two American flag GIFs on either side. Today, this type of web design would be shocking to see on a website that is supposed to represent the Executive Branch of the United States of America. Nevertheless, the website seems to contain the information that the American public would want to see. There are links that take you to information about the President and Vice President, how to send them emails, a virtual library, and even a link to “White House for Kids.” However, when comparing the 1999 web page to the 2012 version, I noticed something strange. While the Obama Administration’s website has an abundance of information about national and international issues, as well as the President’s stance on these issues and the progress he is making, the 1999 web page does not have any information about Clinton’s policies.
This is not to say that the older version of whitehouse.gov is completely flawed. For 1999, and even for today, it is a perfectly functional website. What it lacks in aesthetic or overall web design it makes up for in its simplicity. Furthermore, I found the “White House for Kids” page to be especially intriguing. The hyperlink on the homepage took me to a fun, interactive page where a cat named Socks and a dog named Buddy (the Clinton family pets) accompanied me on a guided tour of the White House and its history. It was a stark contrast to the cold, white background of the homepage. Overall, I found the Kids page to be well-designed and definitely kid-friendly. Not only that, but since the homepage had very few hyperlinks to begin with, it was easy to find and access.
The 2012 version of whitehouse.gov is more synonymous with any “modern” or updated webpage that we would see today. The homepage is full of images and links, with headers and sub-headers that allow visitors to narrow down their search for information. The design of the webpage is also much more user-friendly. The top of the homepage features a bar that lists the different information found on the site. From blog posts to photos of President Obama to the President’s stance on certain issues, there is no shortage of substance. Short of state secrets, anyone should be able to find the information pertaining to the United States government that they are looking for.
To me, the most prominent feature of the 2012 webpage that cannot be found on the 1999 version is the “Featured Legislation” section. It’s a simple list of recently passed legislation and information about said legislation, but this is the information that I would be looking for on the White House’s website. Although I have no issue with seeing hundreds of photographs of President Obama petting dogs, I would be visiting whitehouse.gov to find information about what acts and reforms the United States government is currently working on. In addition to “Featured Legislation,” the search bar on the 2012 webpage is also notable since the 1999 version did not have one. The lack of information on the Clinton Administration’s whitehouse.gov did not necessarily require a search bar since everything was made available through a few hyperlinks. Nonetheless, with the sheer volume of documentation present on the 2012 White House website makes the search bar a necessary addition. The addition of information from 1999 to 2012 was a good way to keep the American people more up to date, but the search bar is invaluable. Being able to find that information is crucial; nobody wants to search through documents filled with political jargon for longer than necessary.
The striking differences between the 1999 and 2012 versions of whitehouse.gov represent the Internet as a whole and what people were using it for. Since the media has always been a more direct way of learning about what the government is currently doing, the Clinton Administration may not have found it necessary to flood their website with documents and news about legislation. However, the website under President Obama was a more stimulating environment. The amount of information made readily available to the public is indispensable, and it contributed immensely to the Internet’s ideals regarding freedom of information.
Sources for information and all images: https://web.archive.org/web/19990117000728/http://www2.whitehouse.gov/WH/Welcome-nt.html