This past week I had two stereotypical government experiences that got me thinking about ways the open source community can help improve government products and services. There’s a huge different in quality and joy when you compare consumer apps with government services. This is understandable: there’s more competition, fewer restraints, and more money in private enterprise so naturally government offerings won’t be as exciting. At the same time government services affect us much more than a generic app.

Imagine having a civic app that’s as pleasant to use as a modern consumer app. It sounds far-fetched but I wonder whether that needs to be the case. The software development community has leveraged open source to create some incredible tools that make us all orders of magnitude more productive yet every time we have to do something with the government it feels we’re sent back in time.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Given how often we interact with the government wouldn’t it be amazing if we could leverage our combined skills to improve the tools that we’re using? Rather than contributing to yet another open source library why not contribute to improving a government site that you think needs some love?

Of course this is easy to say but there’s a ton of hidden complexity. How is the data itself managed and exposed for development? Who controls the code quality and releases? Who decides what makes it in and what gets rejected? There are a ton of questions that would need to be worked through but I do think there’s something here. We already have the US Digital Service for the federal government but what if the entire open source model could be applied here as well?


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