Say a friend stops by and asks to borrow a screwdriver.
You say sure. When she returns the screwdriver a couple days later, your friend mentions that she made an improvement: now it works with both Phillips and flat head screws. Another friend hears this and asks if he can take a look, too. When he returns the screwdriver, it's been upgraded again: now it's a power screwdriver. Then a third friend gets excited and adds some extra speeds and a better battery.
This situation sounds improbable, but it's how open source software development takes place.
On open source projects, programmers build tools to solve specific problems, then make those tools freely available so others can use them and contribute their own improvements. The communities of programmers that grow up around successful open source projects often produce tools that are more secure, flexible, and cost-effective than those produced by a team working in isolation.
The key is building a community.
That's why I'm pleased to announce that we've established an official White House presence on Drupal.org, an online community dedicated to maintaining and improving Drupal, the software that powers WhiteHouse.gov. We've released the source code for several Drupal modules in the past and we're now working with members of the Drupal community who are helping us improve We the People, the White House petitions system. In the coming months, we hope to release a new, "white label" theme for We the People that will make it easier for others to re-use the code and set up their own petitions systems.
Since August, we've also been active on another open source community site, GitHub, and released the code for We the People and our mobile apps, White House for iOS and White House for Android, there. For those who've been following the We the People project on GitHub, we'll continue to work with the community there to maintain both it and our mobile apps.
While an open source approach isn't the right solution for every software need, using and contributing back to open source software is one way that we're making it easier for the government to share data, improve tools and services, and return value to taxpayers. That's why President Obama's Digital Government Strategy encourages departments and agencies to participate in open source communities and adopt open source platforms.
Whether you're on Drupal.org or GitHub, interested in We the People or our mobile apps, if you're a developer we want to work with you. Visit the White House on Drupal.org or stop by the White House GitHub profile. You can also stop by our /Developers page to see a complete rundown of our open source projects and keep in touch on Twitter by tweeting @WHWeb.