When people think of government software, they often think of COBOL and PowerBuilder 5, with manual software deploys every three to six months on a fixed number of machines in a government-run data center. This perception is sometimes justified, but sometimes entirely wrong. Regardless, the perception makes many developers reluctant to work for the government because they worry about the frustrations of getting stuck in the bureaucracy instead of being able to iterate rapidly, ship products, and deliver value.
We’ve recently added two powerful tools to the U.S. Web Design Standards development workflow that allow us to preview, test, and publish the Standards code more quickly and easily. Fractal Fractal is a powerful and flexible framework for building interactive component libraries. It’s similar to Jekyll (which we use to publish the Standards site) in one key respect: It operates primarily on simple file naming conventions. Organize your files in a specific way, using the content and data formats it understands, and it will generate a web site automatically.
Last [month], NASA Open Innovation Program Manager Dr. Beth Beck and her team traveled to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) near Montreal, Canada to attend the Inspiring Data Forum graciously hosted by our Open Data neighbors to the North. The goal of this gathering was to bolster the working relationship between the two Space Agency’s Open Data efforts and to present techniques NASA is doing in Open Innovation. The event was heavily attended by CSA employees and also had participants from National Research Council of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat, Natural Resources Canada, Agricultural and Agri-Food Canada, MaxQ and Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.
When I joined the code.gov project, I had just over a month to make an impact on the project. The most pressing work seemed to be defining a software metadata schema — a way for agencies to format the details of the software they’ve built. In August of this year, the Federal Source Code Policy was signed. It requires federal agencies to, among other things, inventory their custom software and make the inventory available for consumption and display by code.
Improving the way the government delivers information technology (IT) solutions to its customers isn’t just a goal, it’s our mission. We at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office know that by publishing our open source code, the public can help us come up with new and better IT solutions. In advance of the new Federal Source Code Policy and in support of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, we have been publishing content on GitHub for over a year, and it now includes source code for a mobile application for trademarks.
Summary: Today we’re launching Code.gov so that our Nation can continue to unlock the tremendous potential of the Federal Government’s software. Over the past few years, we’ve taken unprecedented action to help Americans engage with their Government in new and meaningful ways. Using Vote.gov, citizens can now quickly navigate their state’s voter registration process through an easy-to-use site. Veterans can go to Vets.gov to discover, apply for, track and manage their benefits in one, user-friendly place.
Summary: Take a look at how we plan to preserve and pass on the digital history of the Obama administration. President Obama is the first “social media president”: the first to have @POTUS on Twitter, the first to go live on Facebook from the Oval Office, the first to answer questions from citizens on YouTube, the first to use a filter on Snapchat. Over the past eight years, the President, Vice President, First Lady, and the White House have used social media and technology to engage with people around the country and the world on the most important issues of our time (while having some fun along the way).
One year ago this week, we launched vote.gov (also known as vote.usa.gov). It’s a concise and simple site with a single mission: direct citizens through the voter registration process as quickly as possible. It was created by a joint team of USA.gov staffers and Presidential Innovation Fellows, all of whom work within the General Services Administration (GSA). Did it work? Yes. In fact, it worked so well that Facebook made it the destination for their 2016 voter registration drive.
****Gray Brooks of GSA gave us a great definition of APIs in the DigitalGov University (DGU) presentation, Introduction to APIs. He described APIs as “Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are web services that allow people to more easily consume content and data in multiple ways—via mobile devices, mobile apps, innovative mash-ups, and much more.” Simply put, “APIs are a better way to get government information and services into the hands of the people who need them.
We’re thrilled to announce the Space Apps 2016 Global Award Winners!! These projects well represent the best of the best innovative thinking this year. Congratulations to all the teams. We look forward to seeing you at an upcoming NASA launch in Florida. Best Use of Data: Scintilla, created at the Space Apps Pasadena, California main stage event, mitigates the impact of poor air quality in the global community by democratizing air quality data collection.
How to start an innovation movement: Connect innovators with fellow innovators, and find more innovators to collaborate with. This idea underpins a new pilot from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which seeks to harness the power of collaboration among the public and government to better serve veterans. Currently, eight VA centers around the United States are participating in the VA Innovators Network pilot. The pilot allows VA employees to propose and test ideas in a “test small, fail small” environment, with the goal of scaling successful solutions to the entire VA system.
In the five months since we launched the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards — the U.S. government’s very own set of common UI components and visual styles for websites — over a dozen websites have used components of the Draft Standards on their sites. Recently, we talked to three federal web designers about their experiences using the Draft Standards, which were designed with accessibility and flexibility in mind: Maria Marrero is the User Experience Designer for USA.
Three recent stories demonstrate how opening up federal government data and using agile methods to create federal government software can spur innovation while saving tax money and helping the American public. In its Second Open Government National Action Plan (PDF, 639 KB, 5 pages, September 2014), the White House called for a government-wide policy on open source software. Recently, the Office of Management and Budget released a draft policy “to improve the way custom-developed government code is acquired and distributed moving forward.
Summary: Today, we’re releasing for public comment a draft policy to support improved access to custom software code developed for the Federal Government. America has long been a nation of innovators. American scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs invented the microchip, created the Internet, invented the smartphone, started the revolution in biotechnology, and sent astronauts to the Moon. And America is just getting started. That is why since the start of this Administration, the President has taken concrete actions to support the spirit of innovation that makes America so strong.
Whether for voter registration, health services or questions about taxes, trusting what and who you engage with online is critical. We’d like to introduce to you a new API-generating repository for official third-party sites, social media platforms and mobile apps in the United States federal government that can help you do that and remove bureaucratic and technological barriers between users and digital public services. It’s called the U.S. Digital Registry, and we hope you’ll join us in using it to develop a new generation of services that:
_Author’s note: Anyone can contribute to the development of the Open Opportunities platform via the project’s GitHub repository. The Open Opportunities program itself is only open to federal employees. _ Open, agile software development projects can improve government initiatives. As discussed in last week’s article on agile projects in government, the Open Opportunities platform has benefited from increased collaboration within government as well as from contributions from outside of government.
18F is an open-source team. We currently have hundreds of publicly available repositories, with dozens under active development. We’ve had numerous contributions from colleagues within government, and contributions from members of the public. But in the next few weeks, we are going to run an experiment: we want to contract for contributions. And we want to do it the 18F way. What’s the experiment? Specifically, we’re going to use our “micro-purchase” authority.
We routinely publish our best practices in the 18F Guides, and today we’re happy to launch a new one: the 18F Open Source Style Guide. The Open Source Style Guide is a comprehensive handbook for writing clear, accessible, and user-friendly documentation so that your open source code repositories are accessible both internally and externally. It’s important to make sure our documentation is clear both for internal and external audiences.
A Content Management System (CMS) allows people to easily publish, maintain and update information online. Choosing a CMS (or deciding whether you need one at all) is one that many agencies have faced. It’s not an easy choice because there are many solutions available to content managers. As government agencies, the majority of content we deliver is for a large audience, the public. Therefore, your CMS should be a tool that will allow you to quickly and easily share information with the public.
Many forces are converging to strengthen the political, economic and commercial ties that bind the United States, Canada and Mexico. The GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) has anticipated this drive toward collaboration for decades, building a network of links among the three nations’ Chief Information Officers and other national technology and data experts. Annual OCSIT-sponsored North American Day (NAD) talks have contributed to improved digital services in all three countries.
Conserving energy is not a shot in the dark. Millions of people can now shine a light on their electricity usage as a result of a dynamic public-private partnership based on open data. The goal of the Green Button Initiative is to provide electricity customers with access to their energy usage data in an easy-to-understand and computer-friendly format. Customers can click on the “Green Button” logo on participating companies’ websites and download their personal energy use information.
We’ve had an excellent year of training and community events for the federal challenge and prize community, so for the month of December DigitalGov University has taken a look at the events we’ve hosted this year and rounded them up in line with this month’s Crowdsourcing theme. On Wednesday, December 10, the Challenge and Prize Community of Practice hosted its quarterly in-person meeting to highlight the roles and responsibilities that Challenge.
As part of 18F’s mission to deliver effective, user-centric services focused on the interaction between government and the people and businesses it serves, we are also committed to demonstrating how open source and agile-inspired methodologies are critical to an effective, efficient, modern delivery process. We believe these methods produce better software and services at lower cost than previous models, build trust and goodwill amongst citizens and the tech industry, and help to attract and retain technical talent.
Today, refilling your medicine cabinet with bandages and over the counter medicine from your local drugstore may seem like a trivial task, but for Peace Corps volunteers working in remote villages around the world, this task can be much more challenging. As we take steps to forge a 21st century Peace Corps, such as dramatically reducing the time it takes to complete a volunteer application from eight hours to less than one hour, we are also looking into ways to tap the ingenuity of volunteer developers to support our Peace Corps volunteers abroad.
Tuesday, October 7 at 2pm ET, the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health will host a Google Hangout to talk about developing with the API, data, and open source code from Pillbox. I (Pillbox project manager), Mark Silverberg of Social Health Insights (builder of super cool health apps), and Maya Uppaluru of ONC (leads their Innovation Engagement program) will go under the hood of Pillbox.
Six months ago, we launched this DigitalGov.gov platform to support federal agencies in delivering 21st century digital services and information to the public. It seems a good time to share some of the thinking that went into the development of the platform, and what we’ve learned so far. Looking back, we knew we had great content for digital innovators. Here at the Center for Digital Government at GSA, we created the go-to references for federal agencies around Web, mobile, social media, challenges and prizes, and were growing API content.
Open government, open source, openness. These words are often used in talking about open data, but we sometimes forget that the root of all of this is an open community. Individuals working together to release government data and put it to use to help their neighbors and reach new personal goals. This sense of community in the open data field shows up in many places. I see it when people volunteer at the National Day of Civic Hacking, crowdsource data integrity with MapGive, or mentor with Girls Who Code.
Imagine open source code, publicly available to share, that jump starts your agency’s mobile development efforts. Pretty neat idea, huh? Well last year it became a reality with the Mobile Code Catalog. This idea was the brainchild of Mike Pulsifer, who, as the Technical Manager for the Division of Enterprise Communications, Office of Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is responsible for developing and publishing the DOL website and mobile applications.
Most of us in the DigitalGov community recognize that responsive Web design is one approach to mobile first and most of us have a pretty clear picture of what it means—a responsive website will adjust to different devices, and the content will neatly change its layout from one screen size to another. But do you know how it happens? Would you know how to implement responsive Web design in your agency?
As traffic to desktop .gov websites declines, how we publish our content increasingly matters. We need to meet people where they are as they seek information on the Internet. To do so, we need to adjust to the new world of mobile applications, social media, and instant answers provided by search engines. Freeing Content from Our Websites In this content sharing era, it is important to separate the content from how it appears on your site.
Introduction Transparency in coding makes code more secure. Open-source development is development in the light, sometimes a harsh light, that shows every blemish. At 18F we strongly believe this improves the rapidity of our coding and the quality and security of the code. We keep the code open to each other, which allows us to quickly scrub in on projects and to dexterously apply the most talented resources to a problem without too much concern for who is formally working on or in charge of a given project.
In the wide world of software, maybe you’ve heard someone say this, or maybe you’ve said it yourself: “I’ll open source it after I clean up the code; it’s a mess right now.” Or: “I think there are some passwords in there; I’ll get around to cleaning it out at some point.” Or simply: “No way, it’s just too embarrassing.” These feelings are totally natural, but keep a lot of good work closed that could easily have been open.
You’ve just found a great open source fed agency app on the Mobile Code Sharing Catalog, and would love to use one of its cool functionalities for your own agency’s app. As federal agencies release more and more code to the open source community, this dilemma is becoming increasingly commonplace. Agencies who open-source their entire app’s code are taking an excellent first step; the next challenge is to get the really interesting and useful code reused more readily.
We often think of social media as a way to expand our audience, but some public health departments are using it as a new tool for tracking outbreaks of salmonella, e. coli, and other foodborne illnesses. It’s a familiar story: A nice meal out results in days of gastrointestinal discomfort when you realize only too late that the clams were a mistake. You may post to your facebook page and tag where you were, but chances are you never even send a to your local public health department.
World Cup fever, everyone’s got it—even the Broadcasting Board of Governors‘ (BBG) Voice of America has reporters covering the event. For this year’s World Cup, VOA has teamed up with the Office of Digital and Design Innovation (a digital team inside the BBG) to create two new sites: one in English and one in French. These mobile-firsts sites are light-weight, responsive and built to meet the needs of the network’s African audiences, which are increasingly turning to mobile for news and information.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just released the OpenFDA Research Project. At the heart of the project is the OpenFDA API, which allows developers to perform searches on FDA’s drug information database. Coming soon is the ability to search FDA information on medical devices and information about food. Visit the FDA’s API Basics page to learn how to access OpenFDA including interactive sample queries. The FDA’s API documentation is a great example of how to create detailed guidance for developers.
The National Defense University (NDU) is hosting a conference call Friday, May 23, to spread the word about the Disaster Apps Challenge Competition, which opened yesterday. This call is open to the public, specifically the people who are interested in learning more and possibly entering the competition. The goals: Introduce the challenge Explain the basis for meeting the challenge Answer your questions NDU will also be joined by “socialpreneur,” Nelson Jacobsen, CEO, Random Hacks of Kindness and the chief architect and guru who guides and grows Altavoz, the entertainment distribution company he co-founded in 2011.
Over the past year, a GSA collaboration has seen a project that offers API Usability Testing to federal agencies go from the pilot stage to a regular, robust series. Already, 13 agencies and programs have participated, and several more participate with every monthly session that passes. The best examples from across the government have made clear that one of the most important tasks of API producers is to regularly engage their developer community and listen to what they have to say.
During the recent redesign of Data.gov, the team developed a process that helped them respond to public feedback, track the actions and hold themselves accountable. In a DigitalGov University webinar, “Designing in the Open—Public Participation in Government Web Design,” Phil Ashlock, chief architect at Data.gov, and Jeanne Holm, Data.gov evangelist, shared how integrating feedback from virtual, online and face-to-face testing, as well as across multiple social media platforms, helped dramatically change the design in the response to the needs of their users.
DigitalGov Search recently rolled out a new open source technology stack, which gives the team access to real-time analytics and dashboards to monitor search trends. The ELK stack consists of Elasticsearch, a real-time search and analytics engine; Logstash, a log management tool; and Kibana, a data visualization engine for creating dashboards. The dashboard-building capabilities surface trends not seen otherwise when buried in the data, Ammie Farraj Feijoo, manager of DigitalGov Search said in a recent article in GCN.
Search is easy, right? You type a term in a search box and the exact page you’re looking for appears at the top of the list of results. But search is hard and has many shades of grey. On April 10, 2014, Loren Siebert, our DigitalGov Search senior search architect, presented on: Complexities of recall and precision, Popular open source search technologies, and “Search magic” like stemming, synonyms, fuzziness, and stopwords.
At DigitalGov Search, we keep an eye on on our what our government counterparts are up to, both in the U.S. and other countries. We recently came across Gov.UK’s philosophy on and approach to coding in the open. It caught our attention and we realized we should also articulate our open source strategy. Use and Contribute to Open Source Projects Since 2010, we’ve embraced and leveraged open source software to build our site search service for federal, state, and local government websites.
So: You decided to purchase a car that takes advantage of more environmentally friendly fuel. Congratulations! Now, you need to find a place to fill the tank that offers more than just regular gas. The new Alternative Fueling Station Locator app from the folks at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a must-try. The new iPhone app will find and map the 20 closest stations within 30 miles of your location that sell alternative fuels such as natural gas, biodiesel, E85 ethanol, propane and hydrogen.
Working on getting your agency to release an open source policy? Awesome! But if you want an effective open source program, you have to tightly integrate open source into how your agency procures, builds, and distributes technology. You’re not alone! There’s a growing community of government technologists on GitHub working on these issues – a place where you can quickly get the best advice. We’re contributing to this forum because we saw governments at all levels dealing with the same kinds of questions:
Improving the federal government’s ability to deliver digital information anytime, anywhere, on any device—via open content—is a key goal of the Digital Government Strategy. A content management system (CMS) can help your agency move to an open content model, making it easier for people to find, share, use, and re-use your information. The key steps in getting ready to move to a CMS include: Prepare Your Content Choose a CMS Migrate Your Content to a CMS Prepare Your Content Develop a Content Strategy A content strategy defines such things as topics, themes and purpose, and can also play a part in website governance, customer experience, metadata and search engine optimization (SEO).
Americans are rocking open data! From getting people to the emergency room faster with iTriage to helping them navigate road and rail after a disaster, people are innovating, building businesses, and creating safer communities. As developers get more sophisticated and businesses get better analytics, Data.gov needs to change to support them in new ways and your ideas will help to build that future. You are invited to create that new vision.
Data.gov launched a major upgrade today, moving to a new catalog based on an open source data management system calledCKAN. In the process of migrating to a new data catalog, Data.gov had the opportunity to do another round of usability testing. Lucky for us, the DigitalGov User Experience Program, that teaches agencies how to test federal websites, is right in our own backyard. With today’s launch, you’ll see the initial results of what we learned from our testers; an expert Data.
Last week, we told you about the upcoming relaunch of Healthcare.gov and its use of the Jekyll website generator. Jekyll allows users to build dynamic websites served by static pages. To help manage large websites using Jekyll, developers working on the new healthcare.gov published the ‘Prose.io’ editing interface last year. Content editors will use this lightweight editor to create and manage content across the site. Prose is an open source web application that allows users to manage web content stored on GitHub’s code sharing service.
Recently HHS CTO Bryan Sivak outlined a new vision for healthcare.gov. The site will relaunch this June with a completely rethought design and architecture. The new healthcare.gov follows a new CMS-free philosophy. It will be a completely static website, generated by Jekyll. This shift will allow HHS to move away from the use of a content management system for managing Heathcare.gov. Website generators like Jekyll work by combining template files with content and rendering them to static html pages.