Building open source platforms for open government

Agency.com/open
Open Public template
As reported in Radar yesterday, Phase2 Consulting acquired two more Drupal distributions.

With the acquisition of Open Atrium and Managing News, Phase2 now has the top four Drupal distributions in use in government and the media. It already hosted the OpenPublic and OpenPublish distributions, both of which are used by government and publishing clients. AfghanistanElectionData.org was using Managing News. So was HaitiAidMap.org.

The move could pave the way for increased interoperability between federal, state and local .gov websites that use Open Atrium and Open Public. Given the economic realities that face the media industry, improvements to collaboration and functionality on the Managing News and Open Publish distributions are also likely to be of interest to online publishers.

Given the budget pressures that face all levels of government in 2011, the ability to share code between government should not be underestimated as a cost saver. Increased interoperability was one driver behind the the websites for dozens of freshman Representatives on House.gov moved to Drupal. (It’s not clear yet how developments costs were affected in the House.)

That move followed the transition of the most high profile government websites in the world to Drupal: WhiteHouse.gov. The blog post on open source at WhiteHouse.gov supported the development of projects within the Open Atrium collaboration suite.

When open source and open government took the stage at the State Department earlier this month, the White House released more open source code back into the Drupal community.

If .gov is the new .com, Drupal is now positioned to play an even bigger role in providing the infrastructure for those data driven websites.

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.]

New Data.WorldBank.org fuels storytelling with the power of open data

Earlier today, the new data.worldbank.org launched. As I reported for Radar this afternoon, added widgets, maps and an API make World Bank data sing.

The Bank is increasing the number of indicators available on the site from 339 to more than 1,200, and it has substantially improved its API. Four different languages are supported on the site, along with an improved data browser, feedback buttons, instant search, and embeddable widgets.

“The new site shows the art of the possibility,” said Eric Gundersen of Development Seed, the D.C.-based Drupal shop behind the World Bank’s data catalog. “This is really actionable information. So many more NGOs [non-governmental organizations] can now make data-informed decisions if they have access.”

Below, I’ve embedded a video on the power of geo-coding aid.

From the blog:

A team of researchers from Development Gateway and AidData have worked with the World Bank to add detailed subnational geographical information to all of the Bank’s active projects in the Africa and Latin America region. This isn’t just pins in a map showing the country where the money is spent: they have looked through the project documentation to find out as far as possible the geographic coordinates of the actual locations where aid the activities take place.

This video by AidData explains brilliantly what geocoding means, and why its important.

As I also reported at Radar, the World Bank wil be running an Apps for Development contest, launching on Oct. 7.  In addition to the contest, the World Bank will host an open forum on Oct. 7 that will feature experts from the open data movement via live webcasts and a 24-hour chatroom.