White House contributing back to open source projects

Just over a year ago, I noted how the French government had contributed code back to the open source community, enhancing the Thunderbird email client for military purposes. I failed to not(ic)e that a few months later, the White House had done likewise – contributing a number of new modules for Drupal, based on development work done for its own Drupal-based site. And this week, they’ve announced the release of a few more modules:

Today’s code release constitutes a few modules we developed for ourselves, as well as a recognition of our sponsoring the development of modules widely used in the Drupal community, which improve the administration of our site in a variety of ways… We also recognize that there are really good projects already embedded in the Drupal community and reached out to help support their development.

In other words: not only are they recognising that off-the-shelf open source code is good enough for deployment at the highest conceivable levels… not only are they recognising the opportunity to build on top of it, to suit their own requirements… but they’re also getting actively involved with existing projects, in this case Open Atrium:

Prior to launching its internal site on Open Atrium, the White House helped strengthen the platform’s core by investing in key modules … Investment like this increases efficiencies gained by government agencies utilizing a common platform like Open Atrium … It’s really exciting that the White House team is so committed to giving back to open source communities with code contributions and smart investments like this.

It’s amusing to see the deliberate, repeated use of the word ‘investment’ in the piece: clearly, it’s in the interests of the product’s backers to do so, but I don’t think it’s an unfair choice of words. It’s public money being spent for greater long-term benefit.

I don’t have a problem with open source being initially ‘sold’ into government on the £0.00 pricetag: and in the case of WordPress at least, and probably also Drupal, that argument was won some time ago. We’re now entering the second phase, as departments realise that it can be customised to suit their specific needs: we’re moving from ‘can it do this?’ to ‘can it be made to do this?’. But the campaign won’t be complete until we’re going full-circle, contributing back to the projects we’re using.