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 week, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unveiled their new website at FEC.gov. This new site is the result of a years-long collaboration with GSA’s 18F and features completely revamped tools for exploring campaign finance data. It provides user-centered content for understanding the reporting and compliance requirements for people participating in federal elections, redesigned tools for exploring legal resources, and more. Why it matters On the agency’s “About the FEC” page, it says, “The FEC was created to promote confidence and participation in the democratic process.
The Department of Education (ED) launched its first developer site. The developer site is built on GitHub which will make it easier for ED to centralize their code and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Currently, ten APIs are on the developer site: The Civil Right Data Collection (CRDC) APIs: These three APIs give information on public school enrollment in 2013–14, chronic absenteeism in 2013–14, and out-of-school suspension in 2013–14. The College Scorecard API: This is data from the College Scorecard project which allows student and families to “compare college costs and outcomes as they weigh the tradeoffs of different colleges, accounting for their own needs and educational goals.
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.
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.
In January, 18F Consulting announced a new kind of process for vendors to compete for software acquisition contracts. The Agile Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) process would be open to existing vendors on Schedule 70, and require vendors to submit a working prototype based on a public dataset—and then show their work in a publicly available git repository. A number of decision factors led to the request for information (RFI) and then the request for quotation (RFQ).
We’ve all been there. You walk into a meeting, set your things on the table, and sit down on the chair only to hit the floor instead. In a corporate office you might buy a new chair and get reimbursed, or maybe your company has a process for requesting new furniture. Regardless, that chair needs replacing. In the government, the system to replace something small like an office chair revolves around credit cards, called “purchase cards,” paid by the government and used by specially trained employees.
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.
Four years ago, we released our Labor Department-wide API—that is, an Application Programming Interface—with the hope that anyone who wants to build an app using our data could do so easily. At the time, we started off with three datasets. Today, we have around 200, including workplace injuries and illnesses, the unemployment rate, companies’ compliance with wage and hour laws, and many other important topics. We hope that the data we publish can help people who have jobs, are looking for jobs or are even retired from their jobs.
Data is one of the most important assets at NASA. We have data on comets, measurements of Mars, and real-time imagery of Earth. But what good is data if you can’t access it? Not good at all! We’re in the process of building a site (at api.nasa.gov) to catalog NASA APIs that structure access to our data, making it eminently easy for developers to build applications. An application, here, is broadly defined and includes research applications, mobile applications, policy applications—any data use that converts information into insight and action.
Anything built should be built right. It doesn’t matter if it’s built of wood, carbon nanotubes or code. So it’s encouraging that the practice of User-Centered Design—getting customer feedback at every stage of a project—is catching on with APIs as well. When we think APIs, we mostly think of developers and not designers. But the experience of those who want to use your APIs isn’t just dependant of the strength and elegance of your API.
DigitalGov University has hosted some great events over the last year in partnership with Data.gov, the MobileGov Community and 18F to bring you information on opening data and building APIs. This month we’ve rounded up the events over the past year so that you can see what’s been offered. Use the comments below to offer up suggestions on what else you’d like to see on the schedule.
We released the United States Public Participation Playbook this week, a new open resource agencies can use to evaluate and build better programs that give a voice to the people they serve—and the response was fantastic. Public servants and citizens around the world have shared it, and already are contributing new ideas that build from the work of the team of 70 federal leaders, more than a dozen engagement experts, and citizens themselves who worked together to launch it.
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.
If you are a coastal resident, go to the beach, or are interested in digital volunteering, you can be a tremendous help in identifying and classifying changes that storms make to our coast after severe storms. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has launched iCoast, a Web application where you can view aerial photographs and help classify them. The iCoast Team explains: We are looking for online volunteers to classify photos taken before and after Hurricane Sandy, and particularly targeting people with different kinds of coastal expertise, disaster skills, and volunteer interests.
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.
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.
Structured content and open content models can help you create content that is platform-agnostic, format-free, and device-independent. This was the theme of the “What Structured Content Can Do For You: Article Model” webinar last month. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG25vyQ5Jps&w=600] Using a content model is less about how you are crafting your message and more about how the internet is going to react to your content or how you can manipulate it, according to Holly Irving from the National Institutes of Health, Russell O’Neill from the General Services Administration, and Logan Powell from U.
As government innovators, we work to improve public services every day. In essence we are already in a public private partnership. But how can your agency capitalize on existing public private partnerships to engage citizens and enhance services? Four panelists from across government shared their public private partnerships success stories at the DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit last Friday. The three other panels were on performance analysis, customer service across channels, and inter-agency work.
The Food and Drug Administration collects drug labeling information for human prescription, over-the-counter, homeopathic, and veterinary products through a special markup language called “Structured Product Labeling” (SPL). The database created from the SPL submissions is a treasure trove of health information that is valuable to pharmacists, doctors, and the ordinary health consumer. The problem is that data is hard for developers to access and process. Until recently, when the National Library of Medicine released open source code for “Pillbox.
In May 2009, Data.gov was an experiment. There were questions: would people use the data? would agencies share the data? and would it make a difference? We’ve all come a long, long way to answering those questions, starting with only 47 datasets and having 105,000 datasets today. We realized that this was never simply about opening up government data, but rather about growing and nurturing an open data ecosystem to improve the lives of citizens.
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.
Smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, not to mention your agency’s desktop website, are all clamoring for information, but sliced and diced in different ways. How can you make your content adaptive for efficient delivery to all of these mediums? Structured content and open content models can help you create content that is platform-agnostic, format-free, and device-independent. We’ve created two open and structured content models that we want you to use and adapt.
Today we’re announcing our first product launch: FBOpen, a set of open-source tools to help small businesses search for opportunities to work with the U.S. government. On the surface, FBOpen is a website: fbopen.gsa.gov is a simple, Google-style page where you can search available federal contracts and grants. We’ve used the latest in search technology to make finding opportunities easier and more effective for everybody. FBOpen is more than a search website, however.
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.
As the definition of “developer” has grown and expanded, GitHub has become a place where anyone can do simple collaboration. It’s a free social network that tracks changes to any data, not just code, where stakeholders and developers can work on the same data simultaneously. Project Open Data, a cross-agency initiative developed by the White House, that looks at how to manage information as an asset in the 21st century, is powered by GitHub.
Slowness Hurts Web Pages Have you ever been frustrated when visiting a Web page that doesn’t load quickly? Have you ever left a slow Web page before it finished loading? You’re not alone. Several recent studies have quantified customers’ frustration with slow Web pages. Customers now expect results in the blink of an eye. This expectation means that your customers are won or lost in one second. A one second delay in loading a Web page equals 11% fewer page views, 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions.
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:
Since the launch of Next.Data.gov, your help and ideas have made it possible to make two updates to the site. We’re naming these biweekly releases after the presidents so the one that launched this week is the Adams Release. We’re pleased to announce that much of the work was done by the Data.gov Presidential Innovation Fellow, Dave Caraway, whose passion is open data and how it can be used by entrepreneurs to build businesses and create jobs.
Security testing is used to ensure that a mobile product does not pose a threat to agency IT systems and databases. In addition, privacy testing ensures that an app does not put the user’s personally identifiable information into a compromisable position. This article was developed as part of the Mobile Application Development Program. See our general guidelines to testing article for more resources on mobile product testing. Government Guidance Please coordinate with your ISSO when creating mobile or digital products.
Performance testing is used to verify that an app or web page will display quickly to the user and will continue to function as the number of users increases to peak loads. Performance is an important consideration for mobile applications because the connection speed of users is often slower and more variable for mobile users than desktop users. Surveys have shown that users will often stop using applications or web sites that load slowly.
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.
Federal agencies have a new resource to help them make content and services available anytime, anywhere, and from any device–the federal Mobile Code Catalog sponsored by the Digital Services Innovation Center. This catalog is hosted on GitHub (more on why that matters in a moment). Here, agency developers looking to jump-start their efforts can find source code for native and web projects from a variety of sources: federal agencies, other governments, and third-parties in the private sector.
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.
The Canadian government is changing how we think of traditional Web management. They built a platform of standards-compliant (HTML5, WCAG and WAI-ARIA), accessible and secure components that its agencies (and even provincial and municipalities) can use to build and maintain their sites. They are also focused on optimizing for mobile devices and improving usability and interoperability through their platform. Paul Jackson, project lead and one of the lead developers for Canada’s Web Experience Toolkit, or WET, shared details about the toolkit and how anyone can get involved, during a DigitalGov University webinar, April 17.