The White House is going open source. Over the weekend, the White House announced that whitehouse.gov now runs on Drupal. Until now, the Obama administration has continued to use tools purchased during the previous administration. These tools severely limited what the administration could do with the website, limiting opportunities for interaction with users.
In switching to Drupal, the White House hopes to not only harness improved security, but also the power that is Drupal’s crazy-flexible modular system. The White House team will be able to take advantage of the enormous Drupal community to add features and improve the way users interact with the website.
Huffington Post reports:
White House officials described the change as similar to rebuilding the foundation of a building without changing the street-level appearance of the facade. It was expected to make the White House site more secure and the same could be true for other administration sites in the future.
Tim O’Reilly points out that there is a vast difference between using and contributing to open source, and hopes that the government will turn their security modifications over to the community.
It’s also important to realize that using open source is very different from contributing to open source. Despite the exaggerated claims in the AP story, that “the programming language is written in public view, available for public use and able for people to edit”, the White House has not yet released any of the modifications they made to Drupal or its operating environment back to the open source community. The source code for Drupal (and the rest of the LAMP stack) is indeed available, but the modifications that were made to meet government security, scalability, and hosting requirements have not yet been shared. In my conversations with the new media team at the White House, it is clear that they are exploring this option.
While this measure may not be an immediate cost-saver (5 different companies are involved in re-building and maintaining the White House web site), long-term costs should fall as government agencies are able to borrow from the greater Drupal community while incrementally improving on the websites code. But the question remains, will the Obama White House share some of the contributions it’s making to open source?