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Power transfer on the Web

Whitehouse.gov
  The White House Web site gets a makeover.


Even before President Obama took the public oath of office, power quietly switched over from the Bush administration at the stroke of noon, as called for in the Constitution. And so it was on the Web: The Bush White House's Web site disappeared into the ether, replaced by an online portal jazzed up with blog posts, slideshows and front-page video.

All those bytes could contain crucial bits of information chronicling the past eight years. Fortunately, they aren't totally lost. If the only other online presidential transition is any guide, the vanished content will eventually resurface on the HTML-coded pages of Web history.

The new Whitehouse.gov was introduced in a blog posting at 12:01 p.m. today by Macon Phillips, director of new media, who noted that the Web site was "one of the first changes" introduced by the administration. Phillips came over to the White House from Blue State Digital, which designed a whole constellation of Web sites for the Obama team.

Phillips promised that more goodies would be posted online as Inauguration Day wore on, including video of Obama's inaugural address and slideshows from the festivities. (This First Read blog post shows off a bit more of the site.)

Meanwhile, search engines were still pointing to the Bush administration's pages, but efforts to see live content from the old days (as in, um, yesterday) were greeted by "Page Not Found" messages. That's the way it was during the Clinton-Bush transition as well: One day you could hear Socks the Cat meow, and the next day you had to be content with Spotty the Spaniel.

Some of the frills from the Bush Web site, such as biographies of the First Ladies, have been ported over to the Obama Web site with little change. (And speaking of change, the new Whitehouse.gov picks up some of the elements from Change.gov, the ground-breaking Web site created for the presidential transition.)

If you're hoping to drill down into the Bush administration's old Web pages, you'll have to sort through the cached versions preserved by search engines or the http://www.whitehouse.gov">Internet Archive, at least for the time being. That situation will almost certainly change, however: The Web legacy is just too valuable to let lapse.

The model for old presidential Web sites was set eight years ago, during the Clinton-Bush transition: Today, several versions of the Clinton-era White House Web site have been preserved, thanks to the Clinton Presidential Library and the National Archives. (Check out, for example, this 2000 White House talk by famed physicist Stephen Hawking.)

The same routine will no doubt be made available to now-former President George W. Bush and Web historians. Tributes to the late, lamented Spotty the Spaniel - like all the now-dead speeches, photos and press releases from the Bush administration - will live again online.

Correction for 7:43 p.m. ET: In the original version of this post, I said that Change.gov was fading away. But as a sharp-eyed reader points out below, content from the transition Web site can still be found by clicking on the small link on the lower right of the Change.gov home page. I've revised this item to correct my oversight.