White House Swings Open Its Digital Doors to Developers

White House Web site

The government's plan to make its online presence more user- and owner-friendly has been a long-term plan of the Obama administration. Last year, the White House switched from a proprietary content management system to Drupal, and on Wednesday it went a step further, announcing the release of some of its custom code "for anyone to review, use, or modify."

For the people, by the people, indeed.

For the American people, this means a bigger, better communication portal, which allows them to communicate a whole heap better with the legislators than they have in the past. One of the bits of code that the government's I.T. boffins put in the public domain enhances the video- and photo-hosting capabilities—perhaps this will lead to two-way traffic, meaning that citizens will be able to post their own content up on government Web sites, highlighting issues (or potholes that need filling in their local towns.)

Aside from being great PR—what administration doesn't want to trumpet transparency?—the move by Obama should be good news for the taxpayer. Open source is a canny way for the White House to keep the costs of its mammoth I.T. modernization project lower than it would if it were paying over the odds for government contracts that move slowly, spiral out of control financially, and that always get it wrong by focusing on the hows rather than the whats.

Programmers will be poring over the four modules that Vivek Kundra and his geeky civil servants have seen fit to release to the public. This first wave of open-source code concerns scalability, communication, and accessibility. Two of the code modules, Context HTTP Headers, and Akamal, lets site builders add metadata to content, and integrates whitehouse.gov to its content delivery network. The GovDelivery module will improve email service with CMS, while the Node Embed module enhances users' ability to view all photos and videos that the government puts up.

None of the code released, however, should have any security issues—for starters, the government will only release bits of code that it deems not to be risky (not that open-source, then, you would be free to argue, but a girl's got to keep a certain amount of mystique about her, hasn't she?).

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