Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Open Source Government Predictions

Open source software, for those of you who don't know, is software developed by the people, for the people. It is sometimes, if not almost always, free of cost. But more importantly, it is software that is easily inspected, changed and repurposed. The "free" we care most about is freedom; freedom to edit, freedom to review, freedom to share.

Some examples of open source software that you rely on everyday include the Apache Web server software, which runs most of the world's Web sites. The Firefox Web browser is open source. Linux is a famous example of an entire computer operating system that is free of cost and developed by volunteers yet seriously threatens the Microsoft Windows platform.

Government, in the USA anyway, has had trouble adopting or implementing open source software. I think this about to change in a huge way.

Many nations around the world have adopted open source software for a number of reasons, the two main ones being freedom from vendor lock-in and lower cost of ownership.

Many governments prefer open source file formats, as they do not restrict access to documents in the public domain. Another concern is security; software that cannot be inspected or peer reviewed cannot truly be deemed secure. And of course, there are usually much lower up front costs associated with open source software.

Barack Obama's campaign for president has been fueled by an army of Web volunteers, relying on open source Web technologies to dominate the space. The Obama team is quite obviously staffed with open source users and proponents, which leads me to ponder a few things.

Obama promises transparency, and open source delivers. No software is as transparent as open source. All code is open to review and change. All edits are documented and owned. Obama promises accountability. Open source promotes accountability, everyone knows who did what where and when. Everyone is able to ask questions, suggest changes, describe errors. Obama promotes accessibility. Open source software leads the way in designing accessible software not only for disabled users but abled users also.

Obama's Web team have signaled their intent at www.change.gov. Liberal use of copyleft statements, free-flowing communication, use of video and audio, blogs, you name it.

What makes this interesting, is that these folk will soon take over www.whitehouse.gov. I even got an invite this morning to join the new WhiteHouse.gov community.

Hence, I make the following predictions:

1. There will be an early and short lived battle between Obama Web and Gov Web. Gov will throw reams of documents, rules, specs and protocols at Obama Web and tell them to use approved software only. Obama Web will simply do what they want, with the explicit backing of Obama. This will be fun to watch.

2. There will be a slow but steady increase in the number of companies, state governments, and finally end users who use open source multimedia formats and officing software, due to the new WhiteHouse.gov publishing documents in open source formats only. This will be transformative.

3. WhiteHouse.gov will stop using Windows Media and move to Ogg or similar. iTunes will be involved somehow. This will be less cool than it sounds.

4. WhiteHouse.gov will have a discussion forum. This forum will be next to useless.

5. Senior cabinet members will have blogs. These will be fun at first, but will soon become next to useless.

6. Bills will be written using versioning software. OK, this one's a joke, but seriously, it could be a fun idea.

Overall, I think the new administration's Web team will have a subtle, but quietly forceful impact on the everyday lives of Americans as they will slowly but surely be introduced to open source philosophy and implementation. By the end of the Obama administration, I feel confident Microsoft Office will be next to dead or have moved to documented specs and standards and will be mostly free, if not entirely Web-based.

Expect to see a slew of documentation being posted to the White House Web site, with excellent search tools.

And most of all, expect to see the most partisan conversation you've ever witnessed at the soon-to-be-released White House Online Community. Apple fanboys have nothing on Obamaniacs. Legitimizing their tirades via a government-hosted community discussion site will be one of the more humourous things you've seen in a long while.


Michael Hickins said...

Oh yes. H-awesome. Obamaniacs more zealous than Apple fanboys... and you say this is a bad thing? One thing you neglected: the Digg-like feature allowing users to vote issues up or down... perhaps now used to prioritize bill-signing ceremonies?

Jaz said...

Yay me. The blog is up, and teh Whitehouse Web site fonts have all been changed to make sure we all know the President knows what Wordpress is. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/

soyne said...

The blog didn't work in Firefox for me. Not sure what that means, but just saying.

John Lynn said...

Nice commentary. Not sure about them all, but no doubt the white house websites have been much better designed than ever before. I'm just not exactly sure why such a big open source advocate has this blog on blogger instead of WordPress.

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