In April, Radar reported that Energy.gov was moving to Drupal. This morning, the Energy Department launched a redesigned Energy.gov as an interactive open platform that enables information exchange, open data and localized information for citizens. The new Energy.gov uses a combination of open source technology and cloud computing will save an estimated $10 million dollars annually, according to Energy Department officials.
“Our goal is to make Energy.gov easier to use, more transparent and more participatory,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a prepared statement. “This next phase is part of our ongoing commitment to empower consumers and businesses with the information, tools and services they need to save money, create jobs and find opportunities in the new energy economy.”
The new Energy.gov is built using Drupal 7, the same open source content management system used at WhiteHouse.gov, Commerce.gov, House.gov, and it’s the system that supported the reboot of FCC.gov as an open government platform. Drupal distributions are now supporting a growing number of open government platforms in local, state and federal government.
Saving money through open source
The new site was implemented by several different firms. The Treehouse Agency built the backend, HUGE Inc designed the front end, Acquia helped with Drupal support and Energy Enterprise Solutions served as the integrator. Energy.gov is hosted in the cloud by BlackMesh.
[Disclosure: O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in Acquia.]
“The initial investment for the project was nearly paid for by consolidating other sites into this platform and not building new stand-alone sites in other places,” wrote Cammie Croft, senior adviser and director of new media and citizen engagement at the Department of Energy, in an email this morning.
“We strategically invested our resources into open source and cloud solutions where possible,” she wrote. “We anticipate more cost savings as we consolidate more sites into this platform and eliminate duplicative and out-dated website infrastructure elsewhere. As we consolidate more sites into the platform, we anticipate cost savings or avoidance of $10 million in a year. As of this launch, we’re over $1 million in cost savings or avoidance.”
The redesigned site has several notable bells and whistles around localization, data visualizations and open source mapping tools that use Node.js. Energy.gov features interactive maps built from open government data using MapBox, a map design suite from Washington, D.C.-based development firm Development Seed. For instance, an “alternative fuel locator” dataset is mapped and embedded below:
“This is about telling complex stories with data, and beautiful maps matter,” said Development Seed founder Eric Gunderson in an interview this morning. “It just makes data a lot more consumable for citizens. The best part is that agencies are now able to do this for free on their own using open source tools.”
For more ways that the Energy Department is tapping technology to deliver on its mission, including fuel economy, a solar decathlon, ARPA-E and more, make sure to read Aliza Sherman’s excellent Mashable article.
Croft emphasized that the relaunch shouldn’t be seen simply through the prism of cost savings alone. “This isn’t about reducing the bottom line,” she wrote. “It’s about being more strategic with our investments in digital communications and technology.”
The Energy.gov site allows Energy staff to create new sites without needing to go to developers. They’ll “own” their own platform and will be able to add more functionality from the open source community in the future and contribute code back as well.
In that context, open source is playing an important role in open government, although it’s hardly a precondition for it. Whether it’s Energy.gov, coding the middleware for open government data or codesharing with CivicCommons, open source matters more than ever. As we moved together into the 21st century, open source technology and collaborative models will matter in media, mapping, education, smarter cities, national security, disaster response and much more in 2011 and beyond. The success of open source in building systems that work at scale offers an important lesson to government leaders as well: to meet grand national challenges and create standards for the future, often it’s best to work on them together.