Author: Michael Walsh

Gov 2.0 guide to Plone

Plone is a secure and flexible open source content management system (CMS) for building all types of web sites and web applications. Supported by a vibrant developer community that is ranked in the top 2% of open source projects worldwide, a large number of domestic and international public sector organizations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, rely on Plone to power their digital communications. Plone’s widespread adoption by high-profile users is due in no small measure to the project's open source codebase and unrivaled security record. These attributes continue to differentiate Plone from other CMS solutions. Given the increased importance of cyber security for all levels of government, one can expect to see continued (if not increased) adoption of Plone in the public sector despite strong competition from other open source and proprietary rivals.

Security

According to the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures Database maintained by MITRE Corporation, the security record of Plone is unrivaled. In fact, the number of high severity, publicly known vulnerabilities for Plone is orders of magnitude lower than all three of its main open source rivals:

Source: Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures List, MITRE Corporation

For many government organizations, Plone’s proven security track-record is the most important feature highlighted during CMS selection.

Community

While security often takes center stage when one mentions Plone, the vibrancy and size of its developer and user community are themselves important features of the solution. Despite periods of increased and decreased interest in the project over its ten year life cycle, Plone maintains one of the strongest open source developer communities. At present, Plone’s community is massively global, with over 300 solution providers in 57 countries. There also are dozens of official local user groups and hundreds of unofficial ones thanks to Plone’s ongoing support of 40 languages. Finally, the project has strong ties to the wider Python and JavaScript (including the JQuery Javascript Framework) communities due to its heavy reliance on these languages.

Other Features

The release of the latest version of Plone in 2010 provided a major reinvigoration for the project. While continuing to emphasize security and usability, Plone 4 delivered big improvements in raw speed and scalability. These features help Plone better respond to the needs of complex web site and web application uers – the segment of the CMS market where Plone excels.

Real-World Implementations

Perhaps no better driver exists for the adoption of an emerging software solution than real-world examples of successful implementations for comparable requirements. Since its release almost a decade ago, Plone has secured a number of high-profile public sector organizations. These implementations demonstrate its ability to meet even the most complex functional and security requirements. Plone also has been adopted by thousands of local and state governments, nonprofits, and other public sector organizations. These implementations illustrate how organizations big and small can leverage Plone to build beautiful websites that meet a broad spectrum of user needs and security considerations.

Brazilian Government

The Government of Brazil leveraged Plone to power Portal Brasil, the government’s main web portal. Plone also is being used by both the President and the Parliament.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI has made a major investment in Plone. Its latest redesign demonstrates its ongoing commitment to the platform. It also illustrates the ability for Plone to support a wide variety of functional requirements through native support or integration.

U.S. Department of Energy

The Department of Energy required a web-based delivery for mission-critical documents called directives. Their emphasis was on security, sophisticated search, versioning, and role management rather than asthetics. They selected Plone for their CMS to meet their enterprise document management needs.

European Environment Agency

The EEA is responsible for producing and disseminating important environmental information to EU citizens. The organization selected Plone as its CMS of record for its main external website.

City of Bern

Bern is one of the largest cities in Switzerland. The city turned to Plone for their main website. This implementation demonstrates Plone’s potential to meet local government needs.

Chile

The National Library of Congress of Chile built an integrated website platform based upon Plone. The platform integrates with Oracle, Autonomy, D-Space, and PostgreSQL. It helps the government advance open government as well as open data.

Plone and the National Library of Congress of Chile from Matt Hamilton on Vimeo.

Unites Nations

The United Nations relies on Plone to power a number of the organization’s websites, including UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Implementation Programme and the UN Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology for Development.

New Zealand

The Companies Office in New Zealand turned to Plone to meet its external communications requirements.

South Africa

The Department of Science and Technology funds a premier research facility, named SAEON, that establishes and maintains nodes (environmental observatories, field stations or sites) linked by an information management network to serve as research and education platforms for long-term studies of ecosystems. The organization’s website is built using Plone.

Nordic Council

The Nordic Council is a major intergovernmental forum that facilitates engagement between Nordic countries. The Council chose Plone for their main website.

Gov 2.0 guide to open source custom map design using TileMill

TileMill

This week, Development Seed announced the release of a full-featured map design studio that enables web developers to rapidly generate gorgeous custom maps. Based upon open source technologies and funded in part by a generous grant from The Knight Foundation, TileMill dramatically increases the accessibility of custom map generation for enterprise users, including the government. By decreasing the sunk costs required to generate custom maps and at the same time increasing the performance of these solutions, TileMill also paves the way for the next generation of geospatial products capable of meeting the open data imperative.

Why is TileMill Disruptive?

To understand the value TileMill provides, one must understand the existing custom mapping landscape. Even in the Web 2.0 world, those who desire custom maps and geospatial web services (not just a generic Google Maps embed) often need to be able to justify exponential increases in costs and/or schedule for their projects.

TileMill is a game changer because it dramatically lowers the barrier to custom map generation and makes it possible for almost anyone (from a policy analyst to a web developer to a GIS analyst) to quickly generate professional looking, custom maps. It does so by:

  1. Leveraging an innovative programming environment that requires no more than the minimal programming abilities expected for web development (ex. CSS-like language);
  2. Supporting a community that is committed to making validated data sets more accessible for its users.
TileMill Custom Map Design Studio

TileMill Custom Map Design Studio

Rather than serving as “a general-purpose cartography tool, TileMill focuses on streamlining and simplifying making beautiful maps.” This means TileMill is not planning to go head-to-head with proprietary GIS systems (ex. ESRI ArcGIS or AutoDesk GIS Design Server). Instead TileMill targets a broad set of audience needs not well met (or likely to be met) by existing products. It does so by helping the average web developer overcome their own challenges: a lack of core skills (software, training, and experience) and time required to generate complex custom maps from traditional geospatial information system (GIS) solutions. From this perspective, TileMill clearly augments and expands both the geospatial and web development marketplaces.

What Makes TileMill Innovative?

In the closed and open source geospatial community, there are many solutions and standards available to developers. What differentiates TileMill is not so much that it is free and that it is based upon a number of open source standards (both of which are true). Nor is it just the fact that a broad audiences of traditional and nontraditional GIS users find the world of custom map making to be easy to use and accessible with TileMill. In the world of Enterprise IT, where innovation often is judged on its technical merits, it’s what is under the hood that still matters most. Thankfully, TileMill does not disappoint.

From the technical perspective, TileMill’s use of Carto, coupled with its deep integration with Mapnik, helps to set it apart in the marketplace:

  • Inspired by Cascadenik, Carto is a CSS-like map styling language based on less.js. It is custom designed to make geospatial mapping more accessible to the average web developer as well as to generate significant performance savings over comparable languages. For example, compared to Cascadenik, typical Carto stylesheets compile 4-5 times faster (usually in less than 100 milliseconds).
  • Mapnik is a OpenSource C++ toolkit for developing mapping applications and integrates with the node.js, a super fast non-blocking server side javascript platform. Thanks to Mapnik’s reference project, the TileMill editor can even highlight correct attributes and suggest corrections when values are invalid.
Open Data at the World Bank with map tiles baked using TileMill

Open Data at the World Bank with map tiles baked using TileMill

How Can TileMill Help Government Agencies Meet the Open Data Imperative?

With TileMill now fully integrated with other MapBox solutions and supporting shapefiles, GeoTIFF rasters, simple KML and GeoJSON, as data pulling from a local disk or from Amazon S3, it is clear that the MapBox solution set can meet a broad range of enterprise user needs (including those of government agencies and federal contractors). This was recently validated by a major media organization, who leverages TileMill to stylize U.S. Census data for their web site:

Beyond this example, TileMill provides limitless options for new lost-cost, high-impact solutions designed to meet the open data imperative. These include a wide range of domestic and international public policy challenges that require new mobile apps, web services, analytical tool sets, and real-time monitoring technologies. From this perspective, the future of open data looks more promising than ever with the release of TileMill.

Appendix: Guide to MapBox Tools and Services

In evaluating TileMill, it is important to consider the larger MapBox set of solutions. At present, MapBox is composed of the following tools and services (reproduced with permission from the MapBox web site):

U.S. Census data map styled with TileMill by Chicago Tribune

U.S. Census data map styled with TileMill by Chicago Tribune

  • MapBox on Apps.Gov provides federal agencies with the ability to freely use MapBox map tiles as a software-as-a-service solution.
  • MapBox.Com hosts free custom designed map tiles, detailed documentation, and open source tools to help users easily build customs maps for their websites.
  • MapBox for iPad enables Apple users to interact with their custom maps (including visualizing their KML and GeoRSS data) entirely offline.
  • Maps on a Stick provides Apple and Windows users with the ability to distribute their custom maps using only removable media – a critical asset in low bandwidth and mobile computing intensive environments.
  • MapBox Hosting offers paid premium cloud-based tile hosting for MapBox users. This ensures that organizations can quickly scale their geospatial capabilities to meet their needs.
  • TileMill is a tool for cartographers to quickly and easily design maps for the web using custom data. It is built on the powerful open-source map rendering library Mapnik, the same software OpenStreetMap and MapQuest use to make some of their maps. TileMill is not intended to be a general-purpose cartography tool but rather focuses on streamlining and simplifying making beautiful maps.
Pakistani flood relief map with MapBox

Pakistani flood relief map with MapBox

TileMill full video overview:




Gov 2.0 guide to Drupal

Introduction

Drupal is an open source platform and content management system (CMS) for building dynamic web sites. Supported by a vibrant developer community, Drupal is establishing itself as a leader among social software solutions. Having already gained a small but significant share of the domestic and worldwide public sector CMS market, the solution appears on-track for continued growth. The expanding list of high-profile government organizations adopting the solution, along with its recent recognition by industry analyst Gartner as a visionary product in the marketplace, will only accelerate its growth.

Community

One of the most important “features” of Drupal is the breadth and depth of its community. This was made evident recently when DrupalCon 2010 San Francisco attracted over 3,000 attendees. Within this community, there is widespread support for leveraging Drupal to innovate new public sector solutions. In fact, one of the keynotes of this year’s three DrupalCon keynotes (and the only sector-specific one) was entitled “Open Source in Government,” which featured representatives from the White House and New York Senate. The overwhelming sentiment shared by these officials and others is that the strength of the Drupal Community is a key reason why the public sector is embracing the solution. In conjunction with the emergence of Drupal enterprise service providers, the growing Drupal Community extols confidence in the platform and its long-term innovativeness, security, and supportability. (Disclaimer: Michael Walsh served on the DrupalCon keynote panel as the moderator.)

Gov 2.0 Radio interview with Andrew Hoppin (New York Senate) and Michael Walsh (Forum One Communications):

[audio:http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gov20/2010/04/22/from-drupalcon-open-source-and-open-gov.mp3]

DrupalCon Keynote Discussion with Dave Cole – White House, Andrew Hoppin – New York Senate, and Michael Walsh – Forum One Communications

Modules

As an open source solution, Drupal’s success is tied to the Drupal Community’s ability to innovate new modules (plug-ins for Drupal that extend, build, or enhance Drupal core functionality) to address marketplace needs. The modules can take two forms: contributed modules (shared under the same GNU Public License as Drupal) and custom modules. While the public sector benefits from many of the same contributed modules that are in use by other sectors, a number of public sector modules have been created by government for government, and subsequently contributed back to the Drupal Community, as outlined below. These modules now form a growing code base – specific to Drupal – which public sector organizations can quickly leverage for their own requirements. By reducing development costs and improving the efficiency of government web site design and development, modules like these are helping to justify the business case for Drupal for an ever-expanding list of organizations.

Distributions

Senior members of the Drupal Community have been championing the value of distributions for some time. These “ready to use” solutions offer developers pre-configured Drupal installations, usually including a selection of modules and themes coupled with Drupal core. The value of distributions is that they provide the developer community with extensible solutions that can be rapidly implemented to meet the functional and technical needs of a specific sector/vertical. This supports economies of scale in open source development by eliminating the need for each independent developer or development shop to develop their own baseline solution for the common set of requirements for a given sector/vertical. This allows developers to focus more on derivative innovation and reduces the total cost of feature development and software defect fixes. For these reasons, distributions are a critical component to the growth of Drupal’s adoption, especially in the public sector. As Dries Buytaert says: “Without Drupal distributions, (the Drupal Community) won’t be able to successfully compete with commercial vendors.”

Acquia Drupal

Downloaded over 125,000 times, Acquia Drupal is a social publishing platform developed by Acquia to simplify the development of interactive, community-based publishing web sites that feature both editorial and user-generated content. By selecting only the most important modules for online communities (e.g., blogs, articles, forums, mashups, and web content), Acquia Drupal enables developers to quickly stand-up high-quality web sites that can be easily customized to meet the specific needs of their users. This GPL licensed distribution is available for free download and organizations can turn to Acquia for 24/7 private paid support. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications has implemented web sites for clients on Acquia Drupal.)

PressFlow

Pressflow is a specialized distribution of Drupal developed by Four Kitchens which features extensive performance, scalability, availability, and testing enhancements required to support high traffic sites. One of the key features of Pressflow is that it supports multi-tier proxy layers. Since no version of Drupal can properly handle this architecture, this is a key benefit of the distribution. To date, Pressflow has been implemented by a number of governments and multilateral organizations, including the United Kingdom and World Bank.

Open Atrium

Downloaded over 90,000 times, Open Atrium is a collaboration platform distribution developed by Development Seed to meet the knowledge management needs of large and mid-sized government organizations. The platform provides “out-of-the-box” team collaboration functionality, including blogs, wikis, microblogs, and content dashboards, that enables web developers to rapidly deploy highly customizable social intranets and extranets. This free and open source solution therefore allows a growing number of organizations to substitute proprietary social business software solutions (such as Salesforce and Jive) with Drupal. Within the U.S. federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs have already adopted the platform. Looking ahead, one of the platform’s key strengths is its supportability, as demonstrated by the growing ecosystem of open source development shops implementing the solution and the recent announcement that the platform will soon feature private paid support. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications has implemented web sites for clients on Open Atrium.)

Introducing Open Atrium from Development Seed on Vimeo.

Drupal Commons

Currently under development by Acquia and its partners, Drupal Commons will be a free, open source distribution designed to make the process of building intranet and extranet community sites easier and less costly than commercial social software applications. Slated for official launch this summer, Acquia expects that Drupal Commons will enable the Drupal Community to more easily develop web sites and web applications that require basic social collaboration functionality, including blogs, status updates, and social networking, coupled with seamless document sharing through customized wikis, group discussions, task reminders, and activity streams. Like Acquia Drupal, Drupal Commons will be commercially supported by Acquia.

Real-World Implementations

As the age-old adage goes, “the proof is in the pudding.” Perhaps no better driver exists for the adoption of an emerging software solution than real-world examples of successful implementations for comparable requirements. In the last few years, the list of successful adoptions of Drupal by domestic and worldwide public sector organizations has exploded. This is especially true of federal, state, and local governments in North America and Europe, particularly in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. To illustrate this point, the showcase below features some of the most important examples of government and multilateral organization web sites and web applications currently powered by Drupal.

White House

In 2009, the White House decided to re-launch WhiteHouse.Gov on Drupal. The decision to power one of the most targeted web sites in the world with an open source content management system garnered significant interest from both media and industry. The White House’s decision and associated media coverage helped validate Drupal as a mainstream CMS solution for all-levels of government.

White House

New York Senate

The implementation of Drupal by the New York Senate demonstrates the potential for Drupal at the state level. Experimenting with the platform, the organization was able to extend the existing platform through new innovations specific to their organizational needs, including OpenLegislation and Whitelist.

New York Senate

United States Army

The U.S. Army‘s Black History Month web site, ForLoveofLiberty.Net, features powerful, audience-centric design (including interactive Flash-based elements) and deep integration with social media sites (including YouTube, Flickr, and Issuu). Designed primarily for students, educators, and veterans, the site serves as a great example of how government organizations can use social publishing to bring history to life and enable public discourse on important topics. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications developed ForLoveofLiberty.Net for the US Army.)

United States Army

U.S. Department of Education

Drupal is the foundation behind the Department of Education’s main organizational web site. The site demonstrates how a federal department or agency can leverage Drupal to help make information, resources, tools, and funding opportunities more transparent and accessible to citizens.

U.S. Department of Education

French Government

The “Portail du Gouvernement” serves as the official French government portal. Like the White House, it serves as an important example of a trustworthy Drupal implementation by a high-profile government organization. It also demonstrates the ability for Drupal to easily support localized content requirements and customizable design.

French Government

City of London

The Greater London Authority’s web site demonstrates a successful implementation of Drupal at the local-level. This informative web site makes excellent use of the content management features of Drupal but also leverages social features to encourage public participation with their government and community.

City of London

U.S. Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce chose Drupal to power its Open.commerce.gov site, which was launched in response to the Open Government Directive. The site provides a great example of how government organizations can achieve a simple, yet effective, implementation on Drupal that fosters transparency, accountability, and collaboration.

U.S. Department of Commerce

New Zealand ‘s Ministry for the Environment

NewZealand’s Ministry for the Environment chose Drupal to power its sustainability web site. The features of the site enable users to participate in polls, establish conservation and sustainability goals, discuss topics related to the environment, share ideas, and rate and comment on content. This site is a compelling example of how Drupal can be used by government agencies to shape behavior, change perceptions, and build momentum around important public policy and social issues.

New  Zealand 's Ministry for the Environment

World Bank

Earlier this month, the World Bank launched Data.WorldBank.org, an open data initiative aimed at making the 2,000+ World Bank data indicators more transparent and accessible to the public. Using MapBox, OpenLayers and Flot, the World Bank was able to create a powerful data analysis and visualization web application supported by an intuitive user interface. This visually appealing site not only demonstrates the potential of off-the-shelf Drupal modules like Features, Context, and Views 3, but also points to the inherent extensibility of Drupal when properly coupled with other open source solutions. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications was a subcontractor to the vendor who designed and developed this web site.)

World Bank

United Kingdom Datastore

Whereas many other government sites utilize Drupal’s social and interactive features and emphasize citizen participation, the UK’s Data.gov.uk site builds on Drupal’s other skill set: content management. The UK leveraged Drupal’s content and database management capabilities to build a publicly accessible data store.

United Kingdom  Datastore

Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

While not specific to the public sector, Young Professional’s in Foreign Policy’s organizational web site is a wonderful example of a Drupal implementation to support large, globally distributed user communities seeking to collaborate on foreign policy issues. The organization’s simple design reflects the tradeoffs international governmental and multilateral organizations can make to enable cost-effective social functionality with Drupal. (Disclaimer: Michael Walsh is the Chair of the Public Diplomacy and Cultural Relations Discussion Group at YPFP.)

Young Professionals in Foreign Policy