Extended thoughts on Twitter and the White House from the first @PressSec

Today, news that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs will be leaving to become an outside political adviser to the president and his re-election campaign. In the White House press briefing today, Gibbs reflected upon several ways that his role has changed as the speed of reporting has increased, particularly in the context of Twitter. Gibbs was the first White House press secretary to tweet, at @PressSec.

The two questions Gibbs answered today for #1Q centered on exactly the question: what’s next for Gibbs – and for his @PressSec account?

“None of these tools were developed for me,” said Gibbs. “They were developed for you.”

He implied that @PressSec will continue, though it’s not immediately clear whether he’ll transition the account. For more on his thinking on social networking, relevant excerpts from the transcript from the briefing follow.

Q: Thank you. Having been at this for two years, can you talk to us a bit about the value of the daily briefing? Do you think it’s helpful to the general public? Is it helpful to reporters? Is it helpful to the White House? Would you make any changes? Would you take it off camera? Do you like it being on camera?

MR. GIBBS: Look, we’ve experimented with a couple different things like — I do think there’s a great utility in doing some off-camera gaggles. We probably, truth be told, haven’t done enough of those. I think there’s an ability to talk about things slightly differently without all these fancy lights.

I think it’s important, though, as I said — I alluded to earlier, it’s important to, as a government, to come out here and talk about and answer the — talk about the policies and decisions that are being made and to answer the questions surrounding those.

Like I said, there are days in which — my guess is it will happen again this week — where you pick up that newspaper or you turn on your computer at 4:30 a.m. in the morning while your coffee is still brewing and you groan and, oh, God, what — you know, great, this is going — and then you get on your BlackBerry.

But I think there’s a usefulness to that. I think there’s a reason that this has been an enduring quality. I do think there is — look, I think there has to be — I think there should continue to be experimentation, again, with gaggles. We’ve tried more stuff on social networking that I think will continue long past my existence inside this building because that, too, is important.

You now have the ability to — look, I got on something like Twitter largely from watching you guys tweet while the President was standing right here. And it’s a fascinating concept. All this stuff moves much faster. I think that will endure. And I think the briefing will endure. And I think what gets added to and what complements the briefing in terms of breaking down any walls that exist between the people and their government will only accelerate.

Gibbs then took a question on his use of social media platforms, which, as the questioner pointed out, he used to call “the Twitter” and YouTube. Gibbs said that was “a joke.” Take a look at WhiteHouse.gov/1Q for an archive of his use of the two platforms.

Q: The use of these kind of platforms, to what degree can you gauge its effectiveness in terms of sort of bypassing us, who are filters —

MR. GIBBS: Well, here’s I think a great misnomer, because I think it’s important — social networking and the use of those type of tools I think — I don’t look at it as, boy, I can now talk to people and you guys — I’m going to go around you. I’ve neversaid that. Because, quite frankly, I subscribe to what you write; youguys subscribe to what I write. And I think what’s unique is we’ve done recently — and I’ve greatly enjoyed them, though I realize that — and I know you all agree — that very few of my answers conform to 140 characters. But I think it’s interesting that you can have a dialogue with people who are going about their daily lives, who have questions for the administration about what it’s doing, and you guys have written off of that.

And I think that’s — I just don’t think people should look at the increased transparency in their government, a greater explanation of the decisions that we’re making, as an effort to move around and go around you guys.

Food for thought. Hat tip to Nancy Scola at techPresident, who offers additional analysis. If you’re at all interested in what happens next to @PressSec, or how the new media aspects of today’s transition were handled, Scola’s post on the 112th Congress’ great Twitter handover is an absolute must-read.

If you missed the first two rounds of Gibbs taking extended questions from the public over Twitter, they’re captured here, along with analysis of what transparency really means in this context.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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