Two of the Democratic candidates for president have announced open source
efforts to help their campaigns. Howard Dean's campaign has launched
, a software package for
running websites for Dean supporters. Wesley Clark's campaign recently announced
the creation of Clark's TechCorps
, which is supposed to
provide "a framework for involving open source software developers in the
Since both campaigns are boasting their use of open source, we decided we
should get in touch with the Clark and Dean campaigns to see where they
stand on open source and related issues. The high-profile usage of open
source by the Dean and Clark campaigns may have given the open source
community the impression that 2004 might be "the year" that open source and
tech issues will become a high profile issue in election-year debates. It
might also cause people to get the impression that both candidates are
staunch supporters of open source usage.
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. We managed to get in touch
with representatives from both campaigns, to find out if their use of open
source would translate into advocating open source in government, and saner
polices regarding tech policy We also wanted to get a lead on their
positions on other issues, such as software patents and the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Due to the rigors of the campaign trail,
neither candidate was personally available for questions.
We first spoke with Josh Lerner, who is the director of technology for the
Clark campaign. Lerner said that they have "no bias in favor of, for or
against any particular model, we can't afford to be religious about it."
Lerner said that the Clark campaign had decided to use open source out of
We didn't have the time to do a lot of evaluation of software, you go with
what works. The OS and tools and all that stuff just works for the most
part... we are [also] using proprietary software where it makes sense.
According to Lerner, Clark is "putting together a bunch of heavy-weight
technology people" to form a policy on technology use in government. At
this time, however, Clark has not yet put forth an official policy on tech
issues and it may be some time before any policies are forthcoming. We also
asked Lerner if he thought that these issues would play a big part in the
upcoming election. He said that he thought it might be an issue, and that
"people in the campaign are talking about it. Not everything makes it out
Unfortunately, we were unable to schedule a phone interview with anyone
from the Dean campaign. However, we did manage to track down Zephyr
Teachout, the director of Internet Organizing & Outreach for the Dean
campaign via e-mail. We asked why the campaign had chosen open source
software for DeanSpace, whether
cost was a factor or if proprietary software wasn't up to the task.
Cost is only one of the factors in our use of open-source software. We
also greatly value the reliability and security that is inherent in mature
open-source software. Additionally, using open-source allows us to focus
our resources more effectively. Recently, we launched an official Dean web
site for every state. Rather than building all of the site functionality
from scratch, we chose to build on top of DeanSpace (an open-source tool
developed by our grassroots supporters for creating Dean-related community
websites). DeanSpace itself was built on top of the open-source Drupal
community system. This is just one example of how open-source software has
allowed us to focus our energy on getting Howard Dean elected.
Not everyone is a fan of the use of open source by the campaigns. Dave
Winer had some harsh words
for both campaigns, which elicited a response from Jim Moore --
the Director of Internet and Information Services for the Dean campaign:
At Dean for America, it is our policy to purchase software rather than to
make it, and to work with vendors large and small to help them be
successful while also pursuing our own success as a grassroots-powered
presidential campaign. We strongly support small businesses for a variety
of reasons, including that they are the major contributors to employment
growth in our nation.
...Like most enterprises we prefer to buy software and services, but
sometimes must make our own. The make/buy decision can be tough. In many
cases, vendors do not provide solutions that integrate the features that
campaigns need, and companies may not see campaigns as a particularly
attractive market. In such cases we sometimes need to make internal changes
to existing software and services or develop our own. This is particularly
the case in a campaign like ours that is innovating in grassroots
philosophy and the use of information and communication technology.
We asked the Dean campaign about Moore's response, and asked if they had a
position on the use of open source in government.
We do not have a position on open-source in government.
Within our campaign, we use a mix of open-source and commercial software.
Often, we work with commercial vendors when deploying open-source tools.
We recently put our main website into the open-source Bricolage content
management system, but did so with the assistance of Kineticode a vendor
that supports this open-source product. Our primary goal is to focus our
human and financial resources on winning the Democratic nomination and the
election next November. Sometimes this goal is best accomplished by buying
a commercial product, often it means deploying open-source, and other times
it means developing tools in-house.
We also asked if the Dean campaign had a position on the DMCA or digital
rights, and got this response:
Issues of intellectual property are very important to a knowledge-based
society. Ultimately we are going to need to find a solution that both
encourages innovation and protects consumers from out-of-control corporate
Finally, since open source development is based on collaboration, we asked
both campaigns if there was any cross-pollination between DeanSpace and
TechCorps. At the moment, it would appear not. Neither campaign was aware
of any collaboration between the two efforts. Lerner did say that his group
is "hoping we can get some of these other independent efforts to join
up, and we'll announce it as it happens." He also said that he wants
to see TechCorps continue, even past Clark's campaign. "Our stuff is
out there and it's going to stay out there... as a separate issue, we want
the TechCorps site to live on and be self-sustaining."
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