October 26, 2009
President Obama wants to encourage open and transparent government. What better way to accomplish this task than by using open and transparent software?The White House Web site recently relaunched using Drupal, an open-source content management system. Drupal replaced the site's previous, proprietary CMS; Acquia, a company founded by Drupal creator Dries Buytaert, is working on the project as a subcontractor.
It is clear that not everyone really understands just what an open-source application like Drupal is designed to accomplish. A recent AP news brief, for example, claims that using Drupal ensures that programmers can make changes to the software "in a matter of days and free to taxpayers." The same story also implies that the White House has opened its Web site programming activities to "the public." Umm, no. General Dynamics still holds the Web development contract for whitehouse.gov. I don't know exactly how much the company charges for its services, but I can guarantee you that "free" doesn't figure in its fee structure. Nor will this be the Internet-era equivalent of Andrew Jackson opening the White House to a mob of likkered-up well-wishers. (His staff had to lure the Inauguration Day crowd back outside with -- what else? -- free booze.) Drupal is distributed under an open-source license, so in that sense the public does play a role here. But I am quite sure that the version of Drupal actually running the site's back-end operations won't be available for Joe Sixpack to poke, prod or "improve" with any off-the-cuff changes. Aside from the AP's half-baked musings, however, this is obviously a big day for open-source software advocates. Quite a few other Internet heavy-hitters already use Drupal, and the White House Web site confirms its reputation as one of the Open Source world's crown jewels. Setting up a high-traffic CMS is never a trouble-free process, and it definitely isn't a cost-free process. But a product like Drupal ensures that the end product delivers the highest possible return on a company's -- or a government's -- content-management investment.
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