Archive for Sunday, October 25, 2009

White House Web site opens up programming for public to edit

October 25, 2009

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— A programming overhaul of the White House’s Web site has set the tech world abuzz. For low-techies, it’s a snooze — you won’t notice a thing.

The online-savvy administration on Saturday switched to open-source code for www.whitehouse.gov — meaning the programming language is written in public view, available for public use and able for people to edit.

“We now have a technology platform to get more and more voices on the site,” White House new media director Macon Phillips told The Associated Press hours before the new site went live on Saturday. “This is state-of-the-art technology and the government is a participant in it.”

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.

“Security is fundamentally built into the development process because the community is made up of people from all across the world, and they look at the source code from the very start of the process until it’s deployed and after,” said Terri Molini of Open Source for America, an interest group that has pushed for more such programs.

Having the public write code may seem like a security risk, but it’s just the opposite, experts inside and outside the government argued. Because programmers collaborate to find errors or opportunities to exploit Web code, the final product is therefore more secure.

For instance, instead of a dozen administration programmers trying to find errors, thousands of programmers online constantly are refining the programs and finding potential pitfalls.

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 a matter of days and free to taxpayers.

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