WhiteHouse.gov: Open gov meets open source

Drupal-powered site helps set the template for transparency

Drupal's open-source content management system is the technology that powers WhiteHouse.gov, which is fitting for an administration that promotes transparency in government.

Not all its technology is open source, but even the proprietary components adhere to open principles, such as crowd-sourcing, said David Cole, senior adviser to the CIO of the Executive Office of the President, who spoke at a Drupal conference last year.

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The site gives the public a close-up of the Obama administration at work. The White House uses a variety of media — including blogs, live streaming, photos, podcasts, social media and videos — to convey its message. 

More than a dozen White House officials or staff members also blog about pertinent issues. Transparency is alive and well in the White House briefing room, too, where there are 900,000 White House visitor records online.

The site extensively features video. Each story at the top of the White House home page comes packaged with a video presentation. In spring 2010, the administration launched the White House White Board, videos in which key players on the White House team attempt to break down an issue that affects U.S. families into simple, understandable terms.

In kicking off the series, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, tackled the tax cut fight. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius went to the site's White Board to explain a rate review provision in the health reform legislation that is designed to protect consumers from unreasonable rate increases.

Another video, “West Wing Week,” sums up news and events of the past week at the White House or wherever the president travels. It also features behind-the-scenes footage of life in the White House and links to background material.

Live streaming of press briefings and other events goes straight to the public through social networking. For example, members of the the public can join in a live discussion about an event on the White House Facebook page. If they are not a Facebook member, they can submit a comment online in a box.

Other uses of social media include “First Questions,” which allows the public to query White House officials via Twitter. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in turn, answers the questions via video. In one, he remarked that having people pose questions of government is a good thing.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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