Arlington County is in the process of building a brand new county website.
The site is being built in phases, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith. The first components of the project — some interior portions of the website — should be launched in “the next couple of months.” If all goes well, the rest of the project is expected to be complete — homepage and all — by the end of the year.
The new county website will built on an enterprise version of WordPress, an open source content management system utilized by tens of millions of websites, including ARLnow.com. By building on WordPress, instead of the current proprietary code, the county should be able to reduce the cost of development and upkeep, and make it easier for employees to update web pages.
Arlington County is also trying to improve the navigation of the site.
“We’re trying to make it more resident-focused, as opposed to county hierarchy-focused,” Smith said. “We’re pretty excited. I think it’s going to be a positive change.”
County staff have proposed making the code that’s custom-developed for its new website open source — in other words, freely available for other developers to copy and tinker with. The County Board is set consider a measure that would allow open source publishing at its meeting this Saturday.
“As new functionality and features are developed by County staff, in the spirit of the open-source community and open government, staff desires to release code developed by County teams under an open-source license, so that others may use and/or improve the code,” staff wrote in a report to the Board.
County staff says developing open source code would come with the following benefits.
1) Open and transparent government
2) Enhances the County’s attractiveness as a workplace; benefits recruitment of programmers who believe in open-source
3) The possibility of even more enhancements being available for County use. Arlington’s changes may inspire others to contribute as well.
4) Lower maintenance needed for code, if County contributions are accepted into the main distribution. If Arlington’s modifications are not shared, the County will have to ensure that any updates made by others and which County staff want to incorporate do not interfere with Arlington’s customizations.
“Website code is a large part of the open-source community because websites are so versatile and have become so easy to set up,” staff wrote. “County staff has found many open-source bits of code that will help the County’s website meet the County’s customers’ needs, and in some cases, staff can easily customize the code for an even better fit. Since the County is benefitting from someone else’s open-source code, staff members want to reciprocate and release County modifications back to the open-source community.”
Although it might sound like a security risk, Smith says allowing the public to view the county’s website code shouldn’t open the site up to illicit activity.
“It shouldn’t present any security risks,” she said. “There are many, many government sites running on open source code.”