House 2.0: Building out the House.gov platform with Drupal and social media

As I reported for the O’Reilly Radar yesterday, when the House chose Drupal as the preferred web content management system for House.gov, it made the “People’s House” one of the largest government institutions to move to the open source web content management platform.

The House.gov platform is moving to Drupal but House.gov itself is not on Drupal quite yet. That will probably happen in the next several months, according to Dan Weiser, communications director of the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer in the United States House of Representatives.

In the meantime, the incoming Congressmen and Congresswomen do appear to have adopted Drupal as the platform for their official websites. For instance, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa‘s site, below, uses one of several templates on the Drupal platform. Notably, each of the new sites includes default modules for the leaders in the respective verticals in the social media world: Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Some questions remain about the cost and choices that representatives have as they choose their online Web presences. As NextGov reported today, while House websites can move to the open source platform – they don’t have to do so.

Given the context of citizens turning to the Internet for government information, data and services in increasing numbers, however, a well-designed Congressional website with clear connections to the various digital outposts has moved from a “nice to have” to a “must have” in the eyes of the digitally connected. (For citizens on the other side of the digital divide, the House switchboards are still available via phone call at (202) 224-3121 or TTY: (202) 225-1904).

If that’s a given, then the question is then why Drupal is now the preferred web hosting environment for the House. On that count, “Drupal was chosen because it is open source and widely accepted, therefore allows Members to leverage a large community of programmers which gives them more choices and innovation,” wrote Weiser in an email. “It should also be noted that Members still will have the option to use other platforms.”

Weiser told NextGov that, because, Drupal developers are in every member’s district, “that hopefully means expanded choice and more innovation for our members.”

The current content management system limits the choice of site programmer as well as innovation, said Dan Weiser, communications director for the chief administrative officer, in an e-mail. Drupal, which uses a common framework and code that can be customized, will allow members to leverage a large community of programmers, providing more opportunities for innovation, he added.

The House expects to save some money with the transition to Drupal, since the chief administrative officer will manage the infrastructure and members pay vendors only for development time, Weiser said.

The inclusion of social media is also no longer a novelty in the beginning of 2011. “We expected there would be interest by the incoming freshmen to have social media on their sites; it just seemed natural to offer the option,” wrote Weiser.

[Disclosure: One of the vendors involved in the House's Drupal effort is Acquia. O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in Acquia.]

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.

4 thoughts on “House 2.0: Building out the House.gov platform with Drupal and social media

  1. Alex, I wonder to what extent offices are willing to switch. In my interviews with the most innovative MOC offices, I noticed that people are very proud of their home-made solutions. I can of course see that there might be other offices that are happy to have a ready-made solution and therefore might jump on the bandwagon.

    Re social media: I am curious how offices from rural districts can be convinced. Others still seem to be of the opinion that their constituents are too “old” and are not interested in social media.

    1. Good question! Watching whether members switch websites over in 2011 will be interesting, especially in that context. It’s notable that freshman sites went over by the dozens. Over time, that would lead to a steady evolution.

      With respect to social media, I have to wonder about what it will take to convince them at this point. While Twitter is more of an urban phenomenon, with respect to its users, its utility for government leaders to share information broadly and instantly has been well documented. YouTube and Flickr are similarly useful for self-publishing and hosting media. With respect to Facebook, the older generations there look like one of the fastest growing demographics, and of course historically have voted more often. I’d expect more voters will be present there than ever before by the end of the year.

  2. With millions more users, 9 times the market share, 5 times more hooks in its core, simpler setup & maintenance and a simply brilliant new interface (as of v3.2), government at all levels should also consider WordPress. No longer just a blogging system, it is a serious CMS & application platform alternative worth considering, especially for government agencies who have limited resources. Both projects are fantastic but it’s good to know there are choices.

    http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all

    Interesting tidbit: Newt Gingrich’s $800,000 website runs on Drupal. 

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