In August, the White House released the Federal Source Code Policy which outlined a two-pronged plan to merge open source ideology with government software development: all newly written federal government software would be available for reuse across all agencies, and all federal agencies would release at least 20% of new software as open source software for three years. Code.gov was designed as the literal front page of the second part of that plan, and on November 3, it officially became the gateway to access the United States government’s open source software projects.
The open source projects on Code.gov include nearly 50 projects across 13 agencies. With surprising ease for a government website, developers can pick an agency’s projects to view, see what language they’re written in, and visit a project’s GitHub repo or home page. With the infrastructure and workflows provided by GitHub, anyone can fork a repo and submit pull requests. No security clearance required.
One notable project hosted on Code.gov comes from the Executive Office of the President. It is the “first-ever government chat bot on Facebook Messenger,” according to the White House Blog. The project provides a starting point for building a chat bot that operates within Facebook Messenger. It allows users to send messages to the President, and the bot navigates the users through composing a message, proofreading it, and collecting some personal information to pair with it. This project is noteworthy given the recent explosion of interest in interactive bots, which were a key part of Microsoft’s Build conference earlier this year with the introduction of the Microsoft Bot Framework, an entire framework for building bots that operate within applications. Facebook is another high-profile player that released tools for creating bots in the Messenger Platform it spun off in April. The common thread running through these bots is a shift toward greater automation in low-level information tasks, reducing the human resource requirements for doing the mundane.
2016 has proven to be a landmark year for open-source software projects. Many have evolved into critical infrastructure across platforms, receiving greater financial and developer support than ever before, and many closed-source projects from industry titans have begun to pivot toward the open. With the United States federal government on board through Code.gov and the Federal Source Code Policy, the vitality of open-source software is at an all-time high.