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Government Communications The Internet United States A Modern Open Platform 88

An anonymous reader writes " just launched a public beta which aims to take the agency into the future. The $1.35 million site follows the lead to Drupal. Agency director Steven Van Roekel spoke with O'Reilly about the agency's push for an open platform: 'It's not breakthrough stuff, but it's breakthrough for government.'"
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  • So now we can find out twice as fast that it costs $1 million to start a radio station!

  • There must be something compelling about Drupal, but I've found it really confusing and troublesome to work with as compared to, say, Wordpress. Why is it chosen for big projects like this?
    • Re:Why Drupal? (Score:4, Informative)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:58PM (#35722138) Homepage Journal

      It really depends on your needs. [] Will allow you to compare CMSs. Drupal is a much more complex and flexable system then Wordpress. That comes at a cost in simplicity. I think the key here is "big projects like this"

    • by dingen ( 958134 )
      Because with the ease and flexibility of Drupal, creating a website like this costs just 1.35 million dollars. What a bargain!
      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        And the only thing you can complain about is the cost, so they've done their job.

        • Since when is 1.35 million "a lot" of money for a development project, anyway? How big a staff does 1.35 million fund over six months? I'm guessing that'd cover 10-15 people making 75-100k/yr (factoring in benefits and the like) for a 6 month project, and that's if all of that money was strictly staffing costs, and didn't include service contracts for things like the move to a "cloud" hosting provider?

          It doesn't seem that inordinately expensive to me, as development projects go.

          My only real complaint so f

    • Re:Why Drupal? (Score:4, Informative)

      by cultiv8 ( 1660093 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:09PM (#35722252) Homepage
      Because Drupal can scale and fit into most development life cycles. There are thousands of modules available so you don't have to re-invent the wheel. Views [] + CCK [] is a relatively easy way to build sql queries through a simple UI. Developer tools abound; drush [], ctools [], integration with firebug, devel [], theme developer [], etc. Lots of APIs to hook into almost anything Drupal does (node API [], forms API [], etc), and quick integration with 3rd party systems through services [] (XMLRPC, JSON, JSON-RPC, REST, SOAP, AMF, etc). Yes, it has a steep learning curve, but unlike Wordpress, Drupal is written for developers, not end users.
      • Drupal is written for developers, not end users.

        I think this is the root of my problems with it. I had just wanted to install and use it, not use it as a basis for development.

      • "... unlike Wordpress, Drupal is written for developers, not end users."

        Drupal is written for yesterday's developers, using yesterday's technology. PHP, for Grid's sake. It's not even really object-oriented. Well, it is, sort of. But that's a later add-on to the language, not something that was designed in from the start.

        Yay, FCC! Taking us into "tomorrow" with yesterday's tools! At around ten times the cost of the same website done by somebody else.

    • It's the usual trade-off between simplicity and control. I have found Wordpress is great for smaller, simpler sites - especially something blog-based. Drupal is more complex from the start, but it gives you more control if you're trying to do something fancy.

      To put it another way, there's a certain point of complexity where Wordpress becomes much harder to work with than Drupal.

      Horses for courses.

    • The real answer to this is - Drupal looks good from the outside and there are many, many Drupal consultants who will talk your ear off about how great Drupal is and be even happier to charge you 1.35m for a website.

      The same people who love PHP and Drupal are the same folks who couldn't figure out how XML works so they instead opted to adopt schema-less JSON and whatever other made up flavor of the month solutions required less book-learnin' to implement. One need only look at the nested blob datastructures

    • Configuration management of a Drupal system is an absolute mess. I've yet to see a solid set of procedures for moving code and configuration forward (dev ---> test ---> staging ---> production) when the production database (with its convoluted schema) is continually altered due to content contributions. The features module ( may be the best avenue in the future, but it is nowhere near a full solution.

      On an unrelated note, apparently the developers of the new F
    • (Obligatory disclosure: My business is providing technical services for advocacy organizations in DC. [] My practice isn't Drupal-oriented, but obviously I have a financial interest in trends in that sector, so you may wish to discount my opinions accordingly.)

      The answer is that it has critical mass in the advocacy/e-government sector. It isn't so much anything about Drupal per se that makes it the default choice; it's that in this line of business it's what everybody else uses. So you get lots of projects

    • I've tried using both, and Drupal seems to be structured much more to drop in modules and have it do whatever you want just alright, while WordPress is designed specifically to be a blogging system, thus it's extra good at doing that.

      Nobody's stopping them from trying to use a combination of the two if they desire so, either. But I'm not sure how much they really need a blogging CMS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:41PM (#35721944)
    A brand new site would have been a golden opportunity to lock themselves into some sort of proprietary solution developed by an incompetent but well connected contractor, complete with an endless upgrade treadmill of licensing fees and restrictions.

    Instead, they go with Drupal. Why does the FCC hate business so much?
  • by blueZhift ( 652272 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @12:53PM (#35722080) Homepage Journal
    Ok, now who are you and what have you done with the FCC?! It certainly is unusual to hear of a government agency doing anything sane with technology, so kudos to the FCC! While Drupal has its detractors, it's a great platform if you know what you're doing. So I'm glad to see the FCC taking advantage of good OSS and thereby delivering a better product to the people at a lower overall cost. Sadly, the US government is not known for this sort of thing.
    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      So I'm glad to see the FCC taking advantage of good OSS and thereby delivering a better product to the people at a lower overall cost.

      Maybe they didn't spend a big chunk on licensing fees, but $1.35 million for a fairly vanilla website is quite expensive.

  • I hope many more government agencies being following redesign, their sites are hurtful even with my contacts out. When I went to the current page it was "wow..." the "beta" site looks at least current and willingly viewable. Certainly won't hurt their abandonment rate! And yes I get the whole "don't judge a site by it's css" which is cute and all, but bad usability is just laziness. And design is certainly part of usability.
  • by Clsid ( 564627 )

    A government agency changes its website to the usual CMS/Jquery plugin with nice graphics interface that gets installed into most websites these days. How is this news?

    I'd rather read about the efforts of the State Department, their website looks better imho, and they have pretty neat technology when it comes to visa applications. They have this image detection routine that will detect if you are wearing glasses, or if the picture has the wrong proportions based on the frame of your face and the frame of th

    • It sounds like you've already read about the efforts of the State Department with their shiny website. Feel free to submit a write-up on it for everyone else's reading pleasure.
      • by Clsid ( 564627 )

        I just used the system when applying for a visa and thought it was pretty neat. I know the image detection works that way since I was doctoring images in the Gimp and just uploading it to the Test your Picture section to see how good it was. And it is really good :). It even detects when the borders of your face have been retouched. Try it out when you can.

    • This the FCC (YEA YEA boradcast flag, sell Verizon and ATT&T anything they want, he its not OTA but we can regulate ISPs because um...well we want too) we are talking about.

      They actually did something supportive of open standards, and freedom for a change. I mean really its a shock that they new site is not being developed on Sharepoint! I almost spit my coffee out when when I read this! I mean they DID NOT PICK Sharepoint! Hope is alive!

  • by haeger ( 85819 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2011 @01:06PM (#35722224)

    However it does depend heavily on 3:rd party modules and not all of them actually clean up the DB after you install them. I have an old site, upgraded from Drupal 4.X-something, and while upgrade path has been rough at times, I've always managed to get it to work. However my DB is now a mess of unused tables that I'm not sure if I can delete.
    I've tried the module "backup and migrate" to move the tables I "think" I need to another site, but unfortunatly I haven't managed to get it to work yet. It's either move the "whole mess" or it won't work.
    A shame that it isn't easier, although D7 is a great step forward.

    • One of the biggest problems with Drupal is the need to install a whole bunch of modules to even get the basic functionality you would expect in a website. For example, in WordPress you get nice URLs (with the title as-words-in-the-url instead of just a document ID) out of the box. In Drupal, you install the path module, and then the pathauto module (to automatically create aliases at the time of article creation), not to mention dependencies.

      • by inpher ( 1788434 )

        It is because Drupal is module oriented, it has a very tight core built upon modules. One module to hadle users, one to handle paths, one to handlt translation of text string one to handle logs and so on. It is kind of like most *NIX systems where ls, sed, more, wget, ln, mkdir, grep and so on work together to form a coherent operating system. You need a programming language? Install a module. You need an audio encoder? Install it.

        Granted, Drupal is developer-oriented, it is its weakness and strength. For e

      • Well, if they included every potential feature in core, someone else would be writing right now: "One of the biggest problems with Drupal is that they shoved so much stuff in core it's really bloated."

        Damned if they do, damned if they don't. I for one prefer the leaner, more modular approach, as it allows me to decide exactly what goes in.

        You're right that it certainly increases the learning curve though.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      A system you can't break apart and repair is a system that's broken from the start.

  • Ahh, it's been a few days since a Slashdot story mentioned Drupal.

    What IS it with Drupal and Slashdot? It's only used by ~1% of websites, AFAIK.

  • I've done 2 (and a half) magazine sites writing fully custom CMS and am finishing a site with Drupal. Drupal can be pretty annoying but in the end you get caching for free which is a huge plus. Unlike Wordpress it's not for the "I just want to blog" crowd ("Born to Blog" might be a good t-shirt ...) and faced with another site that needs fully customizable pages, I'd only pick Drupal again if the budget was really low or if they were OK with it looking like Drupal's river of news. Next time out, Django.

  • those who know what RF is. And not do something stupid like allocate broadband systems next to GPS spectrum.
  • Personally, I do not like the idea of .gov sites using to add/manage content to their site. There are plenty of scenarios where this can be abused by third party sites (see "partners" page).'s privacy page does not clearly mention this, nor does it provide links to opt-out from advertising networks (yes, I know, another cookie to opt you out, but something is better than nothing: []
    (yes, I submitted this information to them a

  • So this leaves me wondering what happened to the [] initiative announced back in January which was built using Liferay ( [] )

  • Leave it to the US Government to spend $1.35 million deploying a website on a free, open-source platform. Hey, Uncle Sam - I'll do the same quality site for the bargain price of $500,000.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Does that include all hardware, man hours for designers, testers, etc? What about back-end integration with dozens of existing apps, data conversion for the old site? Can you figure out layer upon layer of requirements that you have to decipher, CDN integration, section 508 compliance (do you even know what that is?). Oh, and you can't use persistent cookies (they're illegal), and so on. You also need to design an API that you can expose to the public. Don't forget a search engine as well, it should do face

      • I know I've designed sites that do everything you just described, albeit not for the government, and done so from scratch (no CMS). It took me about 4 months, as the lead along with 1 other coder, and including hardware, people time, testing, everything, cost less than $200K.

        • by darjen ( 879890 )

          You also probably didn't have to pay off multiple levels of bureaucracy and consultant insiders to make things happen. Don't you just love government efficiency?

        • I know I've designed sites that do everything you just described, albeit not for the government, and done so from scratch (no CMS). It took me about 4 months, as the lead along with 1 other coder, and including hardware, people time, testing, everything, cost less than $200K.

          Sure, but does it have back-end integration to a S/360 mainframe? Hmmm??

    • Not a penny of that was actually spent on the open-source platform. That was labor costs (project planning, custom coding, design, testing, and many many layers of management, auditing, and bureaucratic oversight), and I'm sure a very healthy chunk was spent in the data center costs (dedicated machines, load balancing, content delivery networks). Of course since it's a Federal project, the data center is also required to go through all those same layers of management, auditing, and bureaucratic oversight.


  • So let me get this straight... the FCC... basically the watchdog of the communication world... put its site on Terramark's cloud... which was purchased by..... wait for it..... Verizon... the very people they watch. []
  • It is a very costly CMS.

    It has a very steep learning curve, and is minimally documented.

    And then it's slow.

    waste of $ even when free

  • $1.35 million for this? Seriously? Building a custom Drupal template is trivial. It's not a bad-looking site, but it's basically a homepage design and a single template for all other pages. And navigating the site I'm not seeing a significant amount of content, in fact, a decent amount of it links off to other government sites. And there are some odd, inconsistent navigational elements here and there. I'm curious to know who was responsible for the content load, FCC employees or the developer.

    Regardless, th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    curl -I

    The article makes it sound like Drupal is this great thing that's providing all this new data transparency. It appears that that APIs are actually written in Java. Big D only powers the pretty face.

  • Is modern supposed to imply a website designed to be 1024 pixels wide?

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost