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

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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  • CMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:03PM (#42133871) Journal

    Use a CMS like Joomla, Drupal (or any other similar)

    Or, if you're a glutton for punishment, Sharepoint. (yes, that is a joke)

  • Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:04PM (#42133879)

    Drupal with CiviCRM. Perfect for what you've described.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:04PM (#42133881)
    Make sure to have a clear support contract, paid or otherwise. This could become an unpaid time sink unless you set clear time and other boundiaries NOW. You may not notice if you do,but you will pay if you don't.
  • by llin ( 54970 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:15PM (#42134003) Homepage Journal

    For the type of things you're looking for, I'd recommend LocalWiki []. While so far it's been used mostly by communities vs municipalities, it includes robust permissions [], is under active development, and is built w/ some nice geo-extensions for where that's applicable. It's very easy to get up and running [] and you could run a micro EC2 instance to test out for (practically) free.

    I'd also suggest that you try to connect w/ others that are doing similar things. There's a large community of civic hackers. For those working directly w/ municipal govt, check out the Code for America Brigade [], a community that's all about that and can provide help/support for exactly this sort of thing. You may want to check out their deployable app list [], and maybe also check out CfA's github repository [] which has a lot of projects that may be useful, and their Civic Commons [] project which gathers the sw/infrastructure that cities are using.

  • Quit now (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:21PM (#42134067)

    This is not pessimism; it's realism: stop while you're ahead, or at least hammer out an agreement in writing.

    Doing any sort of web development for a large community, and gods forbid a government agency, is going to eat up a lot of your time -- time you've already said you don't have. Worse, though, is that it will never end... your involvement will become increasingly needed and even demanded as services fail or need to be expanded, or your site is hacked. How much liability are you assuming in designing what amounts to the PR page for a group of professional, elected lawyers?

    You absolutely need to make sure that there are clearly-defined boundaries at every level of your involvement, preferably in the form of a contract, even if the work is completely voluntary.

  • by lucm ( 889690 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @04:21PM (#42134077)

    It's not always cost-effective to host your own platform - you need hardware, power and cooling, a reliable internet connection with good upload speed, maintenance, backup, etc. and you get to live with a pager, There are plenty of cheap Linux hosts out there where all the possible software is available. As an example there is Bluehost where the $5/month hosting plan comes with a SimpleScripts subscription which allows you to deploy just about any application in a jiffy (including all the CMS, blogging and social media stuff you can think of, including Drupal). Of course for that price you can't expect stellar performance, there will be hundreds of other websites on the same machine.

    If you want something more robust and you are open to other things than FOSS than have a look at Microsoft Azure. It's more expensive than cheap Linux hosting but for $25-$50/month you can have a very robust cloud setup (load balancing, backup, etc) and no additional license cost. And the nice thing on Azure is that you can deploy an configure a new CMS (like Joomla or DotNetNuke) using a click wizard, it's even more user-friendly than SimpleScripts, you get to choose the various options, not just the admin password. Also with Azure you get a 3 months free trial to see if you like it. And if you somehow can't sleep with the idea of a .Net webapp you can deploy PHP stuff - you can even host a Linux VM and run whatever you want on it but that would kinda defeat the purpose of using cloud services.

    Whatever you do make sure you don't become the "owner" of a local setup. People will start to have unrealistic expectations and will be mad at you when "your" server is down because of a power or internet failure. If you really can't afford a few dollars a month go see an elected official and ask for guidance, I'm sure they can find a federal program to get you pennies.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:11PM (#42135293) Homepage

    No budget, and relying on you for (free) voluntary support? My only recommendation is to walk away as fast as you can.

  • by Roger Wilcox ( 776904 ) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @08:38PM (#42136897)

    Seriously. More important that "what platform?" is "what scope?" and "whose responsibility?" I am a professional web developer, and IMO going in without firm answers to these questions is just nuts.

    You stated there is no budget... what *exactly* will the site do? It will need a webmaster, and if the scope of the project is not clearly limited, you may find yourself in waaaay over your head. A decent website will take hundreds of hours to set up even with the most ideal CMS package. That's without accounting for ongoing maintenance, the expectations of (tech-ignorant) municipal leaders, and the thousand nebulous variables you will end up juggling if you don't clearly define your objectives.

    Unless you are talking about a few static pages, this sounds like a bad idea to me. If the municipality wants a website, before you volunteer you need to make sure they:
    a) understand that a website is a long-term commitment
    b) specify exactly what the website needs to do (and understand that changing this is a Big Deal with real consequences for the cost of the site)
    c) allocate resources appropriately

Friction is a drag.