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White House Uses Open Source To Open Government

The Whitehouse.gov site now runs the open source Drupal content management system, which includes social networking tools that can be used for communications and participatory government.
The White House Web site now runs on open source. Over the weekend, Whitehouse.gov moved to a software stack that includes the open source Drupal content management system and Apache Solr search server.

One of the main reasons for the change was to build more collaboration features into WhiteHouse.gov, according to the Obama administration. In addition to providing content management, Drupal supports blogs, comments, polls, and the ability to create user profiles.

"We wanted to improve the tools used by thousands of people who come to Whitehouse.gov to engage with White House officials, and each other, in meaningful ways," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in an e-mail. "We now have a technology platform to get more and more voices on the site. This is state-of-the-art technology, and the government is a participant in it."

Drupal creator Dries Buytaert said cost cutting and flexibility also factored into the switch in platforms. Buytaert is co-founder and CTO of commercial open source software company Acquia, which helped in development of the site.

"It's a great fit because they want to reduce costs and be able to act quickly, and Drupal provides them the modularity to do so," Buytaert said in an interview. "Drupal gives them a traditional content management system combined with social features, which enables open communication and participation, which aligns very well with the goals of the Obama administration."

Other vendors involved in the project include Akamai, General Dynamics, Terremark for Web hosting, and Drupal development company Phase II.

In a statement on behalf of advocacy group Open Source for America, Bill Vass, president and COO of Sun Microsystems Federal, points to the open source Web platform as evidence of Obama's push for open, transparent government. "By choosing open source software as the defining technology of Whitehouse.gov, it is clear that the President means business," Vass said.

It's not the first time that the Obama administration has demonstrated a propensity for open source. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra sometimes mentions open source along with cloud computing for their potential in lowering IT costs. Other federal agencies that use Drupal include the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Education and the General Service Administration.

However, Drupal isn't necessarily a cure-all for government IT. The first version of stimulus-tracking site Recovery.gov ran on Drupal, but switched to Microsoft's SharePoint. And Drupal has been criticized by some for complexities that hinder usability.



InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb's have published an in-depth report on how Web application development is moving to online platforms. Download the report here (registration required).