The White House goes online -- The newest website allows visitors to check in on the President without even leaving their homes

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated December 16, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST
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When Andrew Jackson opened up the White House for his 1829 inaugural party, the place was trashed by mobs of liquored-up revelers. But now, Bill Clinton is putting Jackson’s reputation as a host to shame by opening the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 11,000 visitors a day — and there isn’t even a vase out of place.

When it comes to getting a peek inside the first residence, waiting in line is out and going on-line is in, thanks to one of the hottest new sites on the Internet. Welcome to the White House: An Interactive Citizens’ Handbook, Clinton & Co.’s site on the World Wide Web (address: http://www. whitehouse.gov/), logged more than 350,000 visitors from its first posting on Oct. 20 through the end of November, according to the White House press of press office.

”This is just part of fulfilling (Clinton’s) promise of making the government more open and more interactive with the people,” says Jock Gill of the White House Of ce of Media Affairs, part of the team that’s been developing the President’s Internet outpost since last spring.

But what’s Clinton really up to? And why put out the welcome mat now? ”When you’re in politics, you’ll use every technique you have available if you think it will give you an edge,” says public-opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman. ”But whether or not it will help him gain an edge in ’96, we don’t know.”

Once cybercitizens jack in to the site, they encounter sound-file greetings from both the President and Vice President Al Gore. There’s also a virtual tour of the residence, a chance to call up bios and photos of the Clintons and Gores, and other executive-branch info. There’s even an interactive session with the first feline, Socks, whose meow was recorded specifically for the site and who’s become so popular, Gill says, that the Socks section will be expanded in the near future.

But Gore has loftier goals for the White House site, calling it ”an electronic road map to the federal government where (people) can provide immediate feedback to the President.” And how much does this particular road map cost taxpayers? ”It’s not expensive at all unless you get all the fancy graphics,” Gill says of the White House’s decidedly unfancy presentation.

Despite Gill’s hype, how many people are really going to spend their free time downloading yawn-inducing items like the 1993-94 National Information ; Infrastructure Progress Report, even if they can rap with the Clintons’ cat in the process? Apparently plenty. ”We now have more electronic visitors a day than physical ones,” says Gill. ”And chances are, if you come to the White House, you won’t hear Socks meow.”

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