Senate Foreign Relations Committee Responds: Website Change On Way


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This is a guest post by Brian Young, the new webmaster for the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chaired by Senator John Kerry. I recently wrote a post about the sorry state of the Foreign Relations Committee’s website threatening to create a “One Million Strong Against Senate Foreign Relations Committee Website” on Facebook unless the Committee communicated that it had a plan underway to increase the utility of what should be the best website in Congress. The Committee responded. . .
Brian Young in the note below has asked for public recommendations that could help the site planners. Please be constructive in your commentary.

Delay that Facebook group! We know, we know. . .
As Steve Clemons astutely pointed out last week, the website for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is, er. . .it’s kind of, uh — well, let’s just say it needs updating..
And we know that. As we told Steve, we’re already in the process of redoing the site.
But it’s not an instant process.
Because we’re not just looking to spruce up the website, drag it into the 21st century with links to press releases, video of hearings, etc, etc. We want to do more than that; we want to create a website worthy of the Committee. Of all Committees in Congress, this is the one most suited for a powerful, interactive website.
This is a priority for Senator Kerry. He hired me with this in mind. He wants a site that creates a portal into the foreign policy deliberations this nation needs to have to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
This site will be designed to involve people in a conversation about the future of this country’s foreign policy.
And, since the Internet knows no borders, it can be a worldwide conversation – a conversation across and between cultures – as we deal with the great threats and challenges facing us now: terrorism, economic upheaval, climate disruption, nuclear proliferation, Middle East peace, disease, poverty — the whole spectrum of worldwide issues.
And, in a way, we’re lucky in the current design of the site. Itís pretty sparse; we’ve got a blank canvas to paint on..
And we want the conversation to begin now, as we make the basic decisions about what this site should be.
I’m here to get your input on that, on what functionality it should have, on how we can create this ongoing conversation.
Obviously, we won’t be able to take every idea; this is a collaborative process, and many of my ideas have already been tossed aside in our internal conversations.
But, since you read this blog, I’m sure you are interested in foreign policy and are active online, so you’ll have some great ideas on what we can do with this site.
I’ve always found that opening up the process and experimenting with new ideas are the keys to real innovation.
— Brian Young


13 comments on “Senate Foreign Relations Committee Responds: Website Change On Way

  1. moi says:

    The House side just revamped their website, it looks great!


  2. Michael says:

    Those are all wonderful ideas about the videos and transcripts of hearings, Kerry-Lugar blog, guest blogs, Chairman’s preview, etc. I also like the idea of featuring foreign policy ideas/essays and inviting dialogue from the public.
    Only comment I want to make is please don’t ignore the written word and put too much emphasis on video presentations of information as is an increasing (and annoying) trend for blogs to put their information in video form and that format isn’t always well suited for serious information.
    In a related point, us non-Americans who follow US politics closely don’t always have the language skills to understand video speech (and American accents). As such, well written posts are always superior to some talking heads for conveying information on the net. Text can be cited and quoted easily – videos not so much.


  3. barber says:

    Ideas for the website:
    Definitely include a blog with guest bloggers. Maybe it could be kicked off with Kerry and Lugar posts.
    The information I want to be able to find when looking at legislation under the committee are several things: videos, links to full transcripts, a short version of bills/summaries of testimony and after it has come up for a vote the breakdown on the vote. A Foreign Policy news/rss aggregator would be good along with a key term map.
    One could have separate comment section for public discussion though this could quickly cycle out of control if not administered properly.
    Honestly I would also put a lot of emphasis and stock into developing excellent visuals. Since Americans are notoriously unfamiliar with geography and world affairs – maps would be great. If the maps showed “hot spots” in the world – that pertained to the legislation being reviewed in committee, that would be even better. Any sort of mixed media regarding the subject of legislation would be great. I imagine that the site would not only like to cater to those who are already interested and familiar with foreign policy but also be very welcoming to the uninitiated.
    To do this I would suggest a few things: a history of foreign policy perhaps in timeline form, a quick run down on the different philosophies on IR and the like, maybe even a foreign policy issue quiz for people that would categorize and map their ideas (liberal, interventionist, isolationist etc.). I think that would be fun.
    Hope that helps. Best of luck with the site.


  4. Jed M. says:

    This thread is great interactivity, and a great sign that web-people can have more of a direct say (potentially!) in how the Hill interacts with the people.
    Two simple ideas: Build the same clickable transcript/video interface that uses for big speeches, debates. Where advancing the video advances the transcript and vice versa. Also, how about an “Add to Outlook” feature to get the committee calendar or a specific hearing onto your own?
    Thanks for listening!


  5. Andrew Jones says:

    I’d like to see a one-stop source of foreign affairs CRS reports.
    Right now members of the public who want to find a CRS report have to hope for the best and check the State Department website, the Italian embassy’s site (no clue why they’re one of the best sources for reports), and sites like Open CRS.
    It could be as simple as including links to reports that relate to whatever hearing is coming up, or as in depth as posting reports as they’re released.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    May I suggest that, if you are going to link to news items, that you provide us with a choice between going to the same old fictional crap we are used to getting, and the actual truth? You could provide two links, one labeled “Main Stream Media”, and the other labeled “Reality”. You might even include a third link, and label it “AIPAC’s version”.
    As far as public discourse goes, I would be very careful what you allow. As Obama’s “questions” website demonstrated, public opinion may run quite counter to what you would like us to believe it is, which complicates maintaining this charade of a “representative” form of government that our out of touch and out of control masters in Washington seek to nurture.
    I respect your efforts, Brian, but I am extremely doubtful that the website will be based in reality, public input, or “change” beyond offering a glitzier and more colorful distortion of the truth behind America’s foreign policies.
    But if you really want to insert a meaningful feature, how about a daily counter of how many humans, worldwide, meet their deaths due to American arms, American military adventures, and American covert actions.May I suggest you start the count back in 1991, so we can include those murdered in Iraq by our sanctions. A clicker tallying a coupla million might just start your new website out with a bang, eh? You might put it right next to the counter that tells us how many barrels of crude we consume daily. Something tells me, over time, we’ll see a pattern emerge.
    Good luck Brian. And take a lesson from Obama’s “questions” site; don’t archive the people’s suggestions. That way, you can simply claim the people have spoken and contributed, even if the end result is completely polar to the people’s will, and completely and utterly detached from reality.
    Don’t forget, theres quite a few out-of-work “Message Force Multipliers” out there just begging for positions. And they’re already trained.


  7. Brian Young says:

    Oops, html tags don’t work, I guess … well, hopefully you can pick out the two quoted sections in there.
    Am I allowed to make suggestions for Steve’s site? 🙂


  8. Brian Young says:

    Well, it surely ain’t a small deal to me … and I don’t think it’s a small deal in general. This could be an important website that can really open up the conversation about our place in the world. I mean, sure, lives aren’t directly at stake, and the future of the planet’s climate isn’t going to be affected directly, but the site’s affects won’t be negligible just because they are indirect.
    It would be really, really helpful if the committee website stored as much of the public committee correspondence with the executive branch or foreign entities as possible.
    That’s a great idea; hadn’t thought of those materials as much. And previewing what’s the come is a big part of what I see the site doing. A lot of people focus on the instantaneous nature of the web, but to me, the bigger factor for this site is … well, it’s not long-tail because it’s before the fact, but discussions over a period of time that filter out through informal networks to engage a broader audience.
    Did Senator Kerry see Steve’s post? What did he think?
    Heh. I can’t confirm that he read it first-hand (he probably did after he heard about it, but I haven’t talked to him about it since then), but he heard about it for sure. His reaction pretty closely mirrored mine; the post was preaching to the choir for us.
    As for Youtube, I’m looking into what we can do. My goal is to put as much onto YouTube as possible, so people can use the material in a larger variety of ways, can post video responses, etc.
    Video in general is a big discussion point. It’s great to have video up so people can look back (yeah, searchable as much as possible, too). Plus we can have messages from Senators, video responses to those messages, looking at what we can do with CODELs, etc, etc
    The thing about this site is that you can do so many different things that would be useful, and the key is finding out what is the best investment of our time, and what people really want from the site.


  9. Anonymous says:

    Steve and Brian:
    This may sound like a small deal to some, and readers know Steve took some heat for complaining about the site when there are so many more important things cooking.
    But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is supposed to be the public’s platform for understanding more about administration policy and what other experts think about the challenges facing the country.
    I think you need to have a much more robust site that links expertise to questions about problems. I think you should use video, and interact with other prominent bloggers like Steve Clemons, and you should create “nodes” of information about the various challenges facing the country, like you outlined Brian.
    The YouTube idea is on target. Also, the Subcommittees are basically missing in action. It would be good to weave them into the format that is chosen.


  10. DCWonk says:

    Welcome to TWN. Thanks for being so open-minded.
    Did Senator Kerry see Steve’s post? What did he think?
    I second Sam’s idea that it would be great to have the hearings loaded on to YouTube. This gives a much more practical format for using the material.


  11. Sam says:

    Thanks Brian. It would be great to have transcripts of hearings (not just opening statements) and also youtube videos of the hearings. It would be really, really helpful if the committee website stored as much of the public committee correspondence with the executive branch or foreign entities as possible. It would be interesting to have a place on the site where the Chairman informally previews what the committee will be considering in the coming weeks/months.


  12. Lurker says:

    Thanks for being so open about this. I agree with Steve and apparently you that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website really sucks.
    Some things to conside:
    Videos of hearings that are indexed by name or subject of hearing. Right now there is no such index and no easy way to find the videos.
    A search function.
    Links to material useful for the hearings and the people you have testify.
    Maybe a Kerry – Lugar blog that other committee members can contribute to.
    Just some thoughts.


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