by Jeff Eaton on November 3, 2009 // Short URL

White House Drupal Coverage: The Roundup

October's announcement that the White House website had relaunched on Drupal brought cheers from the open source community. Even outside of the Drupal world, the high-profile government site was seen a vote of confidence for open platforms and collaborative development. The teams at Acquia and Phase2 helped deliver a great site that silences outdated claims that OSS can't be used on "Enterprise" level sites, and impresses anyone who thought that that Drupal sites have to look like blogs.

Naturally, there's been a lot of chatter about the switch, some good and some bad. I thought I'd take some time to round up the most interesting articles for the community and study what they say about how Drupal and its role in the White House's web presence are being perceived.

The Associated Press broke the story on the morning of the 24th, confirming rumors that had been circulating about a high-profile government site launch. (At DrupalCon DC in March, hallway chatter was buzzing about Dries Buytaert's invite to the White House to discuss Drupal and its technical underpinnings.) The story cast Drupal in a pretty favorable light, and touched on some basic Open Source issues like crowdsourced security.

News and tech blogs like CNet News, TechPresident, and the Huffington Post followed quickly. A few commenters chimed in with "They should've used my favorite CMS, instead!" posts, but for the most part, Drupal's success was seen as a tipping point for greater government adoption of good OSS. Tim O'Reilly had some fascinating thoughts about the transition and its implications for Open Government: it's probably one of the best commentary pieces about the switch. The New York Times' Bits Blog covered it too, and had a lot of flattering things to say about Drupal.

The first of the 'backlash' post was found in Slate Magazine. The article "Messaging Error" by Chris Wilson was met with some head-scratching: it painted the Obama administration's use of Drupal as an ideological choice rather than a technical one, and warned of grave but unspecified consequences. (I like to fancy myself one of the Drupal community's resident contrarians, ready to point out the software's shortcomings and quick to admit when other solutions are better. The author's complaints were more than a bit odd, though, and betrayed a disconnect with the real challenges that administrators of large-scale high-profile Drupal sites actually face.) The article was widely circulated, but the author later posted that responses ran about 50 to 1 against it.

A number of detailed responses followed, led by the DatabasePublish blog. Even Information Week actually published a point-by-point takedown of the Slate article. The Information Week piece didn't appear to come from one of the Drupal community's resident greybeards, so it's nice to know that other folks in the general tech community have our back when it comes to fighting FUD.

It's been fascinating to watch news spread about the site's relaunch and Drupal's role in it. While other people learn about Drupal, we're also learning about what the rest of the tech and Open Government world thinks of Drupal. Here's to the teams that made the project happen, and to all of the developers, designers, and users who've helped improve Drupal. Today we can all point to the White House site and say, "Hey! I helped build that!"

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Comments

some guy

My gut feeling about the

My gut feeling about the Slate article is that Wilson took a page out of the Bob Dvorak playbook in a cynical attempt to get eyeballs on his column. I mean, wow, he found some problems with some software - somebody stop the presses.

Congratulations to the Drupal community - yes, you know you've arrived when the White House uses your product...and when opportunistic cranks write frothing screeds against you and your work to further their own career.

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Dave T

Nice job Jeff...

Jeff,
Thanks for the post - excellent summary regarding all the WhiteHouse.gov coverage.

@someguy - well said, I read the article as you did. Lets face it, Chris Wilson and the Slate are not household names. The more polarizing and controversial he can be the more exposure is generated. Drupal evangelists should not take what he said as a personal insult. We can and should intelligently defend the FUD he is spreading, but in the end he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which is to get the masses talking about his article.

Thanks,
Dave
Mediacurrent

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eaton

Sympathy!

I did time for about two years as a freelance writer before I started my drift towards development. (One of my early "big print" stories was for MacWeek, writing about the emergence of a new graphics format called 'PNG' in the wake of Compuserver's GIF licensing battles. Wow, the memories.)

I'm definitely sympathetic to Chris given the doubtless tight deadlines and the need to come up with material about Drupal and the conversion. Surface evaluation of almost any platform is bound to focus on the cheerleaders and the nay-sayers, overlooking the legitimate insights and frustrations of the vast middle. The danger of adopting the contrarian position on a tight deadline, of course, is getting the details wrong and being raked over the coals...

Hopefully Chris and the Drupal community can both have a chuckle about it: the fast response to the article on various fronts has limited its impact as FUD, and the response to it can be educational rather than confrontational.

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moshe weitzman

Journalism

Lets call a spade a spade. I think his article is shitty journalism. If he prides himself on being a journalist, thats a bit more worrisome than "something to chuckle about". It takes a lot of craftsmanship to ship drupal, or run the executive branch, or anything else. I don't get why journalists are exempted from high standards.

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venkat-rk

Strange defence

The article was poor, shallow journalism, period.

His bluff was called but Slate's editors shouldn't have allowed such a lousy piece, in the first place.

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Joe Bachana

re: whitehouse.gov Drupal implementation coverage

Great job on this blog post, Jeff. What interested me most about what happened last week was the concerted effort that the community made to respond to Chris Wilson's screed.

I'm not suggesting that the Drupal community approached anything close to a coordinated response, we're far from that. However, I saw the glimmers of it on Twitter, through some emails among shops, with some coordination from some people at Acquia, and -- as you pointed out -- with some help from Drupal fans outside the community. The end result was a powerful voice of the community, with individuals supporting each other from different quarters.

re: Dave/MediaCurrent's comment, I'll agree that Wilson got what he wanted (his editors should know better). However, since many of his readers may not know better about the power and flexibility of Drupal, it is incumbent upon the community to respond with the facts. We can't really allow that kind of bad publicity based on falsehoods to potentially affect public and commercial opinion about Drupal.

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DaveT

follow-up...

@JoeB - I do not think anyone is debating the fact that Wilson's piece was poorly written - it is obviously laden with misinformed opinions and fallacies. However, this is a microcosm of internet journalism and blogging at its core, where there is little reference/fact checking, validation, research, etc. This article is what causes *real* journalists and old-school publishers to cringe.

My underlying point though is that serious-minded evaluators of Drupal are not going to turn to the Slate for guidance. If they do, then shame on them. IMHO, the best response is to say nothing, and let the story die on the vine. We (the Drupal community) are the ones who are keeping it alive and giving the article the legs it does not deserve.

Finally, we need to be cognizant that there is a difference between a concerted response effort and giving the impression to others that we are bullying or ganging up on someone who writes negative items about Drupal.

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Josh

Future CMS

Why is it that Drupal fans get so aggressive, down to the point that they'll insult, when someone talks bad about it?

The open source idea is great with the WH site, but I'm not sure they went with the right CMS.

I'd love to see 10 years from now what CMS they're gonna be using for the White House website.

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Anonymous

I don't think it's getting

I don't think it's getting aggressive about people saying bad things, it's trying to set the record straight about uninformed, downright idiotic bad things (and for the most part I don't think it has been done aggressively).

Read the Chris Wilson post and come back and try to tell me he's not a moron. If you're still not convinced, check out the comments on his article. The average commenter there was able to debunk the whole piece without a problem.

Also, saw this on his Twitter:
"RT @robertDouglass: Slate's Chris Wilson has a great track record seeing the future. http://is.gd/4EVMr"

Not only does he get the future totally wrong, it features more annoying pseudo-tech writing like:
"But Mrs. Clinton isn't going to drop out. There simply isn't a function in her assembly code for throwing in the towel."

Last thing, here's a funny Tweet for such a knowledgeable tech user:
"I like this Windows 7 feature where the computer restarts when you try to print something."

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gap_sec

Disclosures

There's a disclosure at the end of the article I find funny:
"Slate sister sites The Big Money, DoubleX, and The Root run on Drupal. The author is not directly involved with any of those sites or their content management."

Perhaps they should soon add "The author's views are his own and do not represent those of Slate, The Washington Post, Newsweek, or any other affiliated companies."

False supporting evidence and irrelevant arguments ($18M recovery.org makeover... huh?) - low quality stuff even beginning journalists would disassociate themselves from!

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Kawika

Giant step forward for OSS

Wow, that's a great step forward for OSS, no matter which camp you're in. The fact that shoddy, shortsighted journalists are attacking Drupal means it's arrived, in a sense... Anything good it seems has those determined to undermine its credibility. Kudos to the Drupal developers.

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Mike

Fair play

Terrific roundup and congrats to Drupal for making a big enough mark that the government is starting to see it's benefits.

Mike

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kumpulan informasi

I did time for about two

I did time for about two years as a freelance writer before I started my drift towards development. (One of my early "big print" stories was for MacWeek, writing about the emergence of a new graphics format called 'PNG' in the wake of Compuserver's GIF licensing battles. Wow, the memories.)

I'm definitely sympathetic to Chris given the doubtless tight deadlines and the need to come up with material about Drupal and the conversion. Surface evaluation of almost any platform is bound to focus on the cheerleaders and the nay-sayers, overlooking the legitimate insights and frustrations of the vast middle. The danger of adopting the contrarian position on a tight deadline, of course, is getting the details wrong and being raked over the coals...

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