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Why the White House's Embrace of Drupal Matters

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, February 18 2009

drupal.jpg (JPEG Image, 349x400 pixels)Drupal developers are abuzz with the realization that the White House's new Recovery.gov site was built using the free and open-source content management platform Drupal. Pre-Recovery.gov, the perhaps highest-profile use of Drupal had been the Onion website. But that's not the only reason that Drupal fans are excited. I asked two CMS expert friends to help me understand the situation, and here are a few of the reasons they gave for why the White House's embrace of Drupal is momentous:

First off is the very fact that with the move the White House is offering an alternative to DC's long love-fest with proprietary technology. Drupal is free, and hey, the economy being what it is, there are tax-payer dollars to be saved on going open source.

Second, it shows that the White House isn't putting much stock in the argument that collaboratively-built software isn't stable or secure enough for government use. (Though one could make the argument that Recovery.gov isn't exactly mission critical.)

Third, Drupal is, arguably, progressive. It has relatively deep roots in Democratic politics, first getting attention in the political space as the foundation under Dean Space. Whatever state Drupal is in today is a result of the community of developers who cared enough to nurture it -- the underlying message, of which, of course, echoes Obama's political narrative. ([UPDATE] David Cohn's written a history of Drupal's political past.)

And lastly, using Drupal for Recovery.gov is a sign that the White House is engaged in an open relationship with Blue State Digital, the firm that's been the home of both the campaign Internet director and the White House Internet director. BSD uses their own proprietary CMS.

As a community-built system, Drupal depends on developers helping to grow the code by folding what they build back into it. So, at least in theory, the White House could build some awesome widgets and nodes and give them back to the Drupal world. To that end, DrupalCon is taking place in Washington DC March 4th through 7th.

(A big thanks to the two unnamed developers for educating me here.)