GitHub: A Swiss Army knife for open government

FCW: “Today, more than 300 government agencies are using the platform for public and private development. Cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco), states (New York, Washington, Utah) and countries (United Kingdom, Australia) are sharing code and paving a new road to civic collaboration….

In addition to a rapidly growing code collection, the General Services Administration’s new IT development shop has created a “/Developer program” to “provide comprehensive support for any federal agency engaged in the production or use of APIs.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has built a full-blown website on GitHub to showcase the software and design work its employees are doing.
Most of the White House’s repos relate to Drupal-driven websites, but the Obama administration has also shared its iOS and Android apps, which together have been forked nearly 400 times.

Civic-focused organizations — such as the OpenGov Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Knowledge Foundation — are also actively involved with original projects on GitHub. Those projects include the OpenGov Foundation’s Madison document-editing tool touted by the likes of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the Open Knowledge Foundation’s CKAN, which powers hundreds of government data platforms around the world.
According to GovCode, an aggregator of public government open-source projects hosted on GitHub, there have been hundreds of individual contributors and nearly 90,000 code commits, which involve making a set of tentative changes permanent.
The nitty-gritty
Getting started on GitHub is similar to the process for other social networking platforms. Users create individual accounts and can set up “organizations” for agencies or cities. They can then create repositories (or repos) to collaborate on projects through an individual or organizational account. Other developers or organizations can download repo code for reuse or repurpose it in their own repositories (called forking), and make it available to others to do the same.
Collaborative aspects of GitHub include pull requests that allow developers to submit and accept updates to repos that build on and grow an open-source project. There are wikis, gists (code snippet sharing) and issue tracking for bugs, feature requests, or general questions and answers.
GitHub provides free code hosting for all public repos. Upgrade offerings include personal and organizational plans based on the number of private repos. For organizations that want a self-hosted GitHub development environment, GitHub Enterprise, used by the likes of CFPB, allows for self-hosted, private repos behind a firewall.
GitHub’s core user interface can be unwelcoming or even intimidating to the nondeveloper, but GitHub’s Pages package offers Web-hosting features that include domain mapping and lightweight content management tools such as static site generator Jekyll and text editor Atom.
Notable government projects that use Pages are the White House’s Project Open Data, 18F’s /Developer Program, CFPB’s Open Tech website and New York’s Open Data Handbook. Indeed, Wired recently commented that the White House’s open-data GitHub efforts “could help fix government.”…
See also: GitHub for Government (GovLab)