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Obama's White House web gets all open sourcy

It's a, er, magic, um, programming language

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Barack Obama's White House website has switched to an open-source content management system, ditching the proprietary CMS used by the Dubya administration.

The move was announced with a phone call to an Associated Press reporter on Saturday, hours before the White House flipped the switch on its new CMS, which includes "social" tools for driving chatter from the masses. Obama and crew like this Web 2.0 thing.

"We now have a technology platform to get more and more voices on the site," White House new media director Macon Phillips told the AP. "This is state-of-the-art technology and the government is a participant in it."

Known as Drupal, the new open-source platform carries a GNU General Public License, and support services are provided by a startup called Acquia.

"This is a clear sign that governments realize that Open Source does not pose additional risks compared to proprietary software, and furthermore, that by moving away from proprietary software, they are not being locked into a particular technology, and that they can benefit from the innovation that is the result of thousands of developers collaborating on Drupal," reads a blog post from Acquia founder Dries Buytaert.

"It takes time to understand these things and to bring this change, so I congratulate the Obama administration for taking such an important leadership role in considering Open Source solutions."

Buytaert says that Acquia helped build the new whitehouse.gov in tandem with Virginia-based contractor General Dynamics Information Technology, Phase2 Technology, Akamai, and the Terremark Federal Group. General Dynamics is the same contractor that oversaw Dubya's proprietary CMS.

He also says that several other government agencies are using Drupal, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, and the General Service Administration.

Compared with past government attitudes, Obama's famously tech-savvy administration should certainly be commended for realizing that an open source platform isn't a recipe for certain disaster. But as Cnet has noticed, the administration needs a few lessons in feeding their open source news to the press.

"The online-savvy administration on Saturday switched to open-source code for http://www.whitehouse.gov," reads the AP's story, "meaning the programming language is written in public view, available for public use, and able for people to edit."

Never mind that Drupal is a CMS not a programming language. And the AP goes on to say that updating the platform requires almost no time and exactly zero money. "It will be a much faster way to change the programming behind the Web site. When the model was owned solely by the government, federal contractors would have to work through the reams of code to troubleshoot it or upgrade it. Now, it can be done in the matter of days and free to taxpayers."

Our favorite bit, however, is where the AP reporter seems to think that adopting an open source CMS means that Obama is somehow making good on his promise to run a government that lets citizens know what it's up to. "[The new CMS is] also a nod to Obama's pledge to make government more open and transparent. Aides joked that it doesn't get more transparent than showing the world a code that their Web site is based on."

Or maybe this is out favorite bit: "Under the open-source model, thousands of people pick it apart simultaneously and increase security."

We would argue that more eyes don't exactly guarantee more security. Just as more editors don't exactly guarantee a more accurate news story. ®

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