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Communications Government Open Source Software IT

Ask Slashdot: What Web Platform For a Small Municipality? 161

Posted by timothy
from the right-here-in-river-city dept.
First time accepted submitter r3dR0v3r writes "I have the opportunity to help improve / replace the website of my small U.S. town (~6000 people). The town leaders are open to most any suggestions, and are open to the idea of having the website facilitate a more open government — by being a place at which town documents, meeting agendas, meeting minutes, legal forms, ordinances, etc. can be found in an organized way and downloaded. And of course the site should provide general info about the town, it's services, recreation opportunities, etc.. Now, we have no budget, so we'll be looking at free/open software. I've considered options such as Drupal, but I'm doing this as volunteer work so I don't want to start from scratch and spend overly much time. Thus, I'm looking for advice about any existing platforms made specifically for municipalities as a great way to get a jump start. I'm guessing there are other slashdotters that have helped their communities in this way. Your suggestions please?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Web Platform For a Small Municipality?

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  • Re:Ruby on Rails (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:04PM (#42133883)

    Do not listen to this advice. RoR is totally fail. It sucks at performance, scaling and pretty much every other metric that is important.

  • Re:tough one (Score:4, Informative)

    by BrownLeopard (876112) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:13PM (#42133981)
    Actually, joomla and wordpress both have multiple free extensions that handle Facebook comments, Disqus comments, twitter feeds, etc.
  • Why make it... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:17PM (#42134009)

    ...harder than it has to be.

    Google Sites + Drive

    The primary purpose of the site is to share information. This would also make it easier to have the town update/work with the site themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:19PM (#42134031)

    Based on your stated requirements (no budget, not wanting to start from scratch etc) I'd suggest using one of the many pre-configured Drupal distributions like OpenPublic (http://drupal.org/project/openpublic) which is built specifically for the needs of government.There are many other distributions available at http://drupal.org/project/distributions. Using one of these will save you a lot of time.

  • Re:CMS (Score:5, Informative)

    by La Camiseta (59684) <me@nathanclayton.com> on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:29PM (#42134167) Homepage Journal

    Take a look at Drupal and the different distributions that are available for download (pre-defined packages of modules and features known to work together). It looks like they have a distribution right up your alley in OpenPublic (openpublicapp.com [openpublicapp.com]).

  • by AnotherShep (599837) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:30PM (#42134175)
    Just a few questions to see if you've even bothered to think about this beyond "Websites are cool, open is awesome!"...

    These questions all come from firsthand experience.

    1) Who will maintain the data on the site?

    a) Does the city have the budget for them to do this?

    b) Will there be resistance to the amount of work they have to do / training they have to take?

    c) Will you train them?

    2) What do the solicitors think? Will they even let you post what you want on the site?

    3) Do the departments want the information available? Are they going to push back if they don't?

    4) You have no budget. Who pays for or does the hosting? Registration? Admin stuff? Maintenance?

    5) Do you actually have buy-in from the people you need it from, or are they just humouring you?

    6) Are you being used? This is the sort of thing that municipalities (Yes, even your small one. Look at its tax roll sometime) can easily justify dumping $20k+ into

    7) They have done a feasibility study, right?

    8) How familiar are you with accessibility standards? Are there some you legally must meet to even put the site up?

    9) Who is responsible for the site itself?

    10) Are you prepared to have this project drag on for over a year?

    11) Finally, the hardest one - are you certain you know the scope of the project?

    Good luck, but don't get yourself in trouble...
  • by sstern (56589) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:30PM (#42134177) Homepage Journal

    Out of the box, it has probably more than what you want. http://openpublicapp.com/ [openpublicapp.com]

  • Re:Ruby on Rails (Score:5, Informative)

    by tattood (855883) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:32PM (#42134199)
    Also, RoR is a framework for creating a website from scratch, which is exactly what the poster did not want to do. There may be CMS packages written in RoR, but Ruby by itself will take a lot more work than he wants.
  • WordPress Hosted (Score:5, Informative)

    by yakatz (1176317) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:35PM (#42134249) Homepage Journal
    WordPress recently started a service specifically for municipalities: http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/wordpress-for-cities/ [wordpress.com] Even with their paid upgrades, you would probably be saving money on development and you are paying for hosting or (bandwidth/power) anyway.
  • GovOffice.com (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @03:54PM (#42134477)

    My small town of ~5,000 uses http://www.govoffice.com/ and it does everything you speak of.

  • Re:CMS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:32PM (#42134883) Journal

    WordPress? ;)

    Joomla is fine for smallish sites. 6000 people in a community is smallish. Drupal is powerful sure enough, but I've found that power also includes (unwanted) complexity. I didn't recommend Wordpress, because I don't really count that as a CMS, though it has CMSy features.

    I've used Joomla, WebGUI, Drupal, Wordpress, and even a few Forum (old school) systems as a "website" framework. Each has advantages.

  • Re:One word (Score:4, Informative)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:51PM (#42135109) Journal

    Even better word is...VM. There are several Linux distros with VM support built in and VMWare has several LAMP builds already set up and ready to go.

    Why a VM?because its pretty obvious that if this guy is going to ask Slashdot he has little to no experience at the task at hand (because if he did he'd already have preferences) so he is gonna make mistakes and with snapshots he can just roll back the image if he makes a boo boo without wasting all his previous efforts. So the smart move would be a minimal distro with VM support and one of the prebuilt LAMP setups from some place like VMWare, its the choice with the fewest risks.

  • by ChiefGeneralManager (600991) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @05:06PM (#42135251)
    Five years ago my local area ("Parish" in the UK) asked for my help. I realise the question is about a 'platform' but really do have to side with the process people here. I developed a site on Textpattern, and editable at the back-end. Three main things happened:
    1. 1. The design was critiqued by committee...move this picture here; have links this colour; can we have this scrolling etc. Indeed I was asked by separate members of the committee to do contradictory things!
    2. 2. The content became my responsibility: I was handed paper photos; old documents and asked to get them online. The few things I was emailed were in Word documents and when I tidied them up I was challenged about why my fonts had been lost
    3. 3. Whenever someone saw something on another website, they wanted it on ours: picture scrollers, Flash animations, user accounts, personalisation, weather forecasts you name it!

    Since, in a gig like this, you can never enforce your own conditions (like saying you won't amend the design on every whim) you have to let the tools enforce this for you.

    If I was ever to try this again I would opt for an easily user-editable, hosted solution. Wordpress will be ideal: http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/wordpress-for-cities/ [wordpress.com] You can cast your role as advising them on how to run it: information architecture; doing the limited number of graphics and showing people how to use the editor. Your role is not to continually re-design (just customise the template), nor to populate the whole thing. You'll also not have to put up with a 2am phone call from the Mayor to say your site is flagged as having malware and is littered with anti-city comments. Wordpress will deal with that for you.

    I have used Drupal (and CiviCRM) for other sites and they are phenomenal tools...I just think for a 6,000 grouping they are overkill. And remember if the city wants personalisation, user accounts, billing, consultations etc. online then they really should be paying for someone to develop it for them (perhaps using those tools).

    Hosted Wordpress will also help you see whether they are ready to run their own online affairs.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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