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11/19/2009
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Obama Team Challenges Web Developers

Having rebuilt Whitehouse.gov on the open source Drupal platform, President Obama's new media team is calling on the open source community for new ideas and technology.

The Obama administration, which recently switched the Whitehouse.gov site to the open source Drupal platform, plans to engage open source developers in a discussion of how they can work better with government agencies.

In a recent presentation to Drupal developers in Washington, D.C., White House new media director Macon Phillips, deputy director Dave Cole, and creative director Nick Lo Bue disclosed plans to add new features to WhiteHouse.gov, including custom news feeds, user authentication, and more tagged, searchable raw data.

The White House will challenge developers to apply some of the best ideas they are already working on "for the public good," including for use by WhiteHouse.gov and elsewhere in the public sector, Cole said. An event is planned, though it's not clear when it will take place.

"We can call upon the expertise of the community to say, hey, this has been our experience with this module, are there any ways to improve this? We're excited to rely on the community even more for ideas," said Lo Bue.

In developing WhiteHouse.gov on Drupal, the Obama team used mostly available code, but it wrote some custom code to meet scalability and security requirements. The new media team is now working with the White House legal counsel to determine how to contribute that code back to the community. "I can't promise a time line, [as] it's somewhat unprecedented for our organization to take that on, but we feel strongly about it," Cole said.

Cole and Philips provided insight into forthcoming features on WhiteHouse.gov, including new search and authentication capabilities. The site's search engine was built with Apache Solr, which Cole called "one of the best improvements," since it goes beyond keyword search. Moving forward, the White House plans to make it possible to subscribe to topics, so that people can receive alerts when there's a speech, document, or blog post on that topic.

The White House is also working to add user authentication, but it's not yet clear what form that will take, as the new media team continues to weigh privacy concerns. "We want a site that can work both for people who are skeptical of the government and for those who want to participate fully with government," Phillips said.

The White House is planning to make increasing use of RDFa, a way of tagging metadata to content that could make hard-to-find data more searchable. "We have a lot of primary source content and have it exposed in ways that traditionally hasn't been done by government," Cole said. "Instead of just having PDFs that are scanned, we're trying to reverse that trend."



InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).

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