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Contributing Code Back: FCC.gov’s Open-Source Feedback Loop

by: Benjamin J. Balter, New Media Fellow

July 6, 2011 - 12:59 PM

Here at the FCC, we're always excited when we can contribute to open source software. Open source software is just like any other software, except the creator publishes the underlying source code that powers the application, allowing others to improve upon or adapt the project to their own needs, and hopefully, contribute those improvements back to the community to do the same. Think of it as the software equivalent of the “give a penny, take a penny” jar at your local convenience store.

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Many popular applications and technologies you or I may use on a daily basis have open source software under the hood: Facebook (PHP) and Twitter (Hadoop), Wikipedia (MediaWiki),cell phones (Android), your web browser (Firefox), even FCC.gov (Drupal, PHP, jQuery, Apache, Solr, MySQL).

Today we follow up on our March release of DeveloperView, with two small open-source releases. The FCC became the first .gov to contribute to WordPress, a content management system that silently powers just over 13% of the Internet, with a faceted search widget. The tool, which we use internally to track migration of content from the old site to the new site, allows users to refine search results - not too dissimilar from the filter by type filters in the right sidebar of fcc.gov's search results.

We also open-sourced a handful of small code snippets that have proved useful in redesigning FCC.gov. The first two allow developers to conditionally load two common software libraries, jQuery and Google Analytics, if a given page does not already have them and the last allows Google Analytics to better gauge how users interact with webpages, such as when they click external links or download a file (virtual event tracking). Both have allowed us to better understand the needs of users as we continue to improve fcc.gov.

Whether providing direct access to data in machine-readable APIs or helping to put tools in the hands of developers, government agencies can help foster a vibrant open source ecosystem around their data. In the vein of “open government,” open source and open data provides an additional layer of transparency: transparency of process and when members of the community contribute code back, it truly is governance by the people.

Please feel free to download the source code over on GitHub and if you use it to make something cool, let us know below, or fork the code, and contribute back.

Updated: April 13, 2012 - 03:28 PM
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