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Do govts need CMSs, not frameworks? (or, "why no Ruby in government?") #30

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daguar opened this Issue Jan 29, 2014 · 3 comments

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daguar commented Jan 29, 2014

TL;DR - I'm summarizing a good recent talk, and think there's a good topic of discussion here: Do governments really just need CMSs? Are we building for our own happiness rather than non-technical user joy and sustainability? (my summary, not her words)

Sarah Allen (ultrasaurus) -- a returning Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) who was at the Smithsonian Institution -- gave a talk at SF Ruby on Monday called:

"Why no Ruby in government?"

(Sarah's slides are available here.)

Sarah covered a lot about her experiences as a PIF, but also had one big point about the technology/government divide that I think was relevant here:

In her view, a large majority of government web projects are fundamentally CMS systems with a few customizations specific to the project.

Thought this would be a good forum to have a discussion of this.

When she got to DC, she didn't want to use PHP, but -- precisely because Ruby doesn't have any well-supported, "clear winner" CMSs -- she couldn't justify rebuilding a lot of the functionality that Wordpress or Drupal give you out-of-the-box.

While there are a bunch of Ruby CMSs ( https://www.ruby-toolbox.com/categories/content_management_systems ) there's nothing at the point of being a clear winner with a strong community providing lots of support.

The fundamental question Sarah posed was: why doesn't Ruby have this? (Ed. note: I think this equally applies to the other in-vogue web languages like Python and Javascript, so it really crosses community boundaries.) Here's a sample of the answers from the crowd:

  • The Ruby community focuses on optimizing developer happiness (most new users are already developers); on the other hand, Wordpress in particular was a gateway to programming for largely non-developers. So in Wordpress/Drupal you have communities that care a lot more about non-developer users and deployers.
  • Deployment has traditionally been an issue (LAMP stacks are common, cheap, and "dumb"/easy); Heroku's advent has made Ruby deployment easier, but this is pretty recent. (Ed. note: It can also be harder for government to contract with cloud service providers, since a low monthly credit card charge is so far removed from the normal big procurement processes.)
  • Ruby (and Rails in particular) gives you an easy set of tools to build something (MVC/CRUD) while CMSs give you the thing itself, with plug-ins that can be installed by less-technical users pretty easily.

All in all, I think this is a valuable question that technologists working in the civic space should proactively consider. In particular, if there were a "Wordpress for Ruby" (or Python, or Javascript) then it would potentially resolve a lot of the sustainability challenges, given that Wordpress is in a place I'd consider "too big to become defunct."

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kmcurry commented Jan 29, 2014

See also the work Luke Fretwell has been doing for years to boot up small
local govs using Word Press.

http://wp.govfresh.com/
http://www.cityofdeleon.org/
http://www.cityofferndale.org/

Also Drupal in the federal government. Over the past couple of years
there's been significant migration from Cold Fusion, ASP and even
SharePoint at places like DHS, State and USAID. It's been long enough that
program managers and developers are now standing the Trough of
Dillusionmenthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cyclefor Drupal,
specifically because they don't like customizing it.

On Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 5:37 PM, Dave Guarino notifications@github.comwrote:

TL;DR - I'm summarizing a good recent talk, and think there's a good
topic of discussion here: Do governments really just need CRMs? Are we
building for our own happiness rather than non-technical user joy and
sustainability? (my summary, not her words)

Sarah Allen (ultrasaurus https://twitter.com/ultrasaurus) -- a
returning Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) who was at the Smithsonian
Institution -- gave a talk at SF Ruby on Monday called:
"Why no Ruby in government?"

(Sarah's slides are available here.http://www.slideshare.net/sarah.allen/why-no-ruby-in-gov-pubprf
)

Sarah covered a lot about her experiences as a PIF, but also had one big
point about the technology/government divide that I think was relevant here:

In her view, a large majority of government web projects are
fundamentally CMS systems with a few customizations specific to the
project.

Thought this would be a good forum to have a discussion of this.

When she got to DC, she didn't want to use PHP, but -- precisely
because Ruby doesn't have any well-supported, "clear winner" CMSs -- she
couldn't justify rebuilding a lot of the functionality that Wordpress or
Drupal give you out-of-the-box.

While there are a bunch of Ruby CMSs (
https://www.ruby-toolbox.com/categories/content_management_systems )
there's nothing at the point of being a clear winner with a strong
community providing lots of support.

The fundamental question Sarah posed was: why doesn't Ruby have this? (Ed.
note: I think this equally applies to the other in-vogue web languages like
Python and Javascript, so it really crosses community boundaries.) Here's a
sample of the answers from the crowd:

The Ruby community focuses on optimizing developer happiness (most new
users are already developers); on the other hand, Wordpress in particular
was a gateway to programming for largely non-developers. So in
Wordpress/Drupal you have communities that care a lot more about
non-developer users and deployers.

Deployment has traditionally been an issue (LAMP stacks are common,
cheap, and "dumb"/easy); Heroku's advent has made Ruby deployment easier,
but this is pretty recent. (Ed. note: It can also be harder for
government to contract with cloud service providers, since a low monthly
credit card charge is so far removed from the normal big procurement
processes.
)

Ruby (and Rails in particular) gives you an easy set of tools to build
something (MVC/CRUD) while CMSs give you the thing itself, with plug-ins
that can be installed by less-technical users pretty easily.

All in all, I think this is a valuable question that technologists working
in the civic space should proactively consider. In particular, if there
were a "Wordpress for Ruby" (or Python, or Javascript) then it would
potentially resolve a lot of the sustainability challenges, given that
Wordpress is in a place I'd consider "too big to become defunct."

Reply to this email directly or view it on GitHubhttps://github.com//issues/30
.

Kevin Curry
757-613-8158
Advisor, Code for America
http://brigade.codeforamerica.org

Let's CodeAcross together this February 21-23:
http://www.codeforamerica.org/codeacross

@migurski

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migurski commented Jan 30, 2014

I wonder whether it’s content management specifically that governments want out of CMS packages like Wordpress or Drupal, or user permissions management? Can these two ideas be separated?

@GovInTrenches

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GovInTrenches commented Jan 30, 2014

I've always theorized that there are a lot of civic apps in Chicago that use Ruby-on-Rails because there's a lot of Rails devs here. (It was invented here and the Starter League teachers Rails) When I went up to Rockford, Illinois for a civic hackathon there - they built a number of their apps in the .net framework.

I'd be interested in doing a poll of the brigade and seeing what everyone uses.

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