The State of the Union address is a spectacle designed primarily for television. But this year, the Obama administration is hoping to use the web to enhance the experience of watching the speech.
The president's tech team has been hard at work on a revamped State of the Union page on the White House website. As in previous years, it will offer a livestream of the speech and display supporting information. But this year, the information will be more personalized and interactive.
If you visit the White House's State of the Union page tomorrow evening, you'll see a live, streaming video of the president's speech at the top. Below that will be a grid of shareable boxes that display information about the speech. Right now, those boxes look like this:
Tomorrow, this section of the page will be different in two important ways.
First, the grid won't be static. As the president talks, the White House will post new boxes explaining and supporting the president's proposals. They'll pop up automatically in the upper-left of the grid, with older boxes sliding down to make room — an approach the White House calls a river. The White House expects to present more than 100 boxes during Tuesday's speech.
Second, some of the boxes will be interactive.
"You'll be able to see state-by-state or demographic data points in real-time," Nathaniel Lubin, acting director of the White House's Office of Digital Strategy, wrote by email. "You'll be able to answer questions and respond to prompts, share feedback, discover related material, and see and share social media content."
For example, when the president discusses his proposal for mandatory paid sick leave, there could be a box where a site visitor can choose his or her own state to see how many people in that state are lacking coverage.
Lubin says the Obama tech team has been working to make the site useful to users on a wide variety of devices. It's designed to work well on mobile phones as well as PCs. And for visitors who prefer to watch the speech on their TV, there will be a "second screen" mode that disables the video stream but still presents the river of interactive content related to the president's comments.
The Obama administration has embraced the web — and sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr — as a way to bring its message directly to Americans. For example, the president posts a weekly video address on Saturdays that visitors can view on the White House website. The revamped State of the Union website is the latest component of that public outreach strategy, allowing the president to present his arguments to the public without having them filtered by conventional news organizations.