Drupal helps federal agencies make 2.0 Web sites

By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor

The open source content management program Drupal is taking federal agencies by storm.

Tom Erickson is the CEO of Acquia, a company that facilitates the use of drupal for businesses and the federal government.

Erickson talked with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris on Tuesday’s Daily Debrief about what the program actually does and how it might change the business of government.


“We call it a social publishing system. What a social publishing system does is — it’s a combination of a traditional Web content management system . . . and social media. When you pull those two together, it results in a lot of excitement in government because you can create a lot of transparency. You can start to create community. You can engage with constituencies. There’s a number of things that you can do that you weren’t able to do before.”

The combination of social networking and content management allows for more interaction between agencies and their audiences.

Erickson uses the example of recovery.gov, which was built with Drupal.

“The whole idea is, let’s engage with the citizens of this country. Let’s talk to them about what’s being done to try and get the economy back on track and let’s get their ideas on things we need to be doing.”

Drupal doesn’t simply change the way a site looks. Erickson notes that it facilitates the creation of Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs, thus making it easier for the public to interact with each site.

In addition, Erickson notes, Drupal is advantageous for federal agencies in other ways.

“One is the cost of acquisition. Drupal as a software package is free. So, your total cost of ownership is low, and so agencies have been experimenting with it, getting used to it, and finding out — you know, “I can roll out a site without major funds being allocated and I can start to communicate with this community in a way I’ve never been able to do for a fraction of the cost [from] before”.”

He also says the software itself is pretty easy to use, which has allowed the less computer literate to jump on board.

There are a couple of ways to start using Drupal. One can ask for assistance from Acquia itself, since the company was founded by the same people who created Drupal. An interested party can also log on to the Web and download free software.

“We have people you can talk to that might be able to give you some ideas about how to think about what you do to build something more compelling — or you can work with one of our more than 100 partners — people that actually build these Web sites. . . . These are small, independent organizations who do this for a living and they work with Acquia to provide that capability.”

Erickson says the possibilities are vast and it all depends on what you’d like your site to do.

“Drupal has core capabilities and, in addition to that, it has a number of modules. So, for example, if you want to create a module that sends out a Twitter message that says there’s some new information available or this is how this particular set of funds is being used, that can automatically be built into the Web site.”

Erickson says Acquia is currently working with federal agencies, in addition to clients from the private sector, to roll out Drupal and quickly create 2.0 capable Web sites.

On the Web:

Acquia — Drupal guide

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