As much as out society and consumer-based lives have changed thanks to huge advances in technology, the way that we interact with our government has remained very similar since the advent of the television. But starting Friday, business as usual became less of an accurate status update for the US government because the White House released a repository of open source code that allows citizens to create and vote on petitions.
This functionality was foreshadowed in September 2011, when President Barack Obama made this commitment:
Among our commitments, we’re launching a new online tool — called “We the People” — to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same.
Finally, that commitment was fulfilled and made public on Github. The Web app lets users to create accounts, log in, set up petitions, and vote very simply. This is a new way to help engage and keep track of petitions headed to the capital, especially since petitions only go public when they cross a designated number of voters.
As part of this open source Web app, the government, chose the GNU General Public License, where anyone has the rights to use, study, modify, and redistribute software.
The app within We the People, titled Petition, is built on a Drupal content management system, and requires MySQL, MongoDB, and, naturally, PHP. Petition is in alpha, which is a very early stage of software development, but is currently in use already at whitehouse.gov.
This is a huge step toward allowing the country, as President Obama stated, to "share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same."
Fittingly, anybody from other countries or organizations can take this new code and use it for their own organization and engagement purposes.
Several petitions on "We the People" have elicited responses from the administration in the past, including responses to SOPA and PIPA acts, reduction of student debt, and immigration.
While the government can get excited by the civic engagement occurring through "We the People," it is obvious that many political figures are more nervous about some of the active petitions on the Web site including those dealing with countries and areas of conflict as well as historical issues such as the removal of "In God We Trust" from the nation's currency.
To design a petition, people can simply download the source code for the White House’s “We The People”online petition application from GitHub and tweak it for their own use.
Currently, several government agencies, such as the FCC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the General Services Administration, use GitHub as a code repository.
The release of the source code is critical part of the administration’s bigger plan to push big data and “open data” to reduce costs and increase social engagement throughout the country.