Eight years ago, the Obama administration chose an open-source content management system to power the whitehouse.gov website. In 2017, the Trump administration also chose an open-source CMS, albeit a different one from what has been in use since 2009.
In October 2009, the open-source Drupal CMS was chosen to power the whitehouse.gov website, a move that was heralded at the time as a big win for both Drupal and open source. With relatively little fanfare, the whitehouse.gov website was relaunched on Dec. 15 using a WordPress CMS, instead of Drupal.
Although there was no official announcement on the whitehouse.gov website, a simple look at the source HTML code for the site provides enough evidence that WordPress is being used. For example, WordPress sites use directory and file naming conventions with the prefix "wp." Perusing the new HTML code for the whitehouse.gov website also reveals a unique theme version. WordPress separates content from layout through the use of Cascading Style Sheet (CSS)-based themes. The theme that now powers the whitehouse.gov website is aptly called "WhiteHouse" and is currently using version 45, a reference to Donald Trump being the 45th president.
As to why the whitehouse.gov site moved from Drupal to WordPress, the primary motivation appears to be money. According to a report in the Washington Examiner, the move to WordPress is all about cost saving, with the relaunched site saving U.S. taxpayers an estimated $3 million a year.
WordPress is an open-source project that is led by a global community of volunteers. The code is freely available for anyone to run on their own, and there are many firms that provide WordPress services to help support deployment. Among the firms that support WordPress is Automattic, which is led by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and operates the WordPress.com site. There is also a U.S. government connection to WordPress, with WordPress lead developer Andrew Nacin working for the U.S. Digital Service.
"I wasn't involved in this," Nacin wrote in a Twitter response about the new WordPress White House site. "I work on public-facing digital services like veterans applying for health benefits or immigrants applying for citizenship."
Although Nacin was not involved in the development of the WordPress-powered whitehouse.gov site, he does have some opinions on how the site compares with others in the U.S. government.
"It's an important content site, and is high profile, but it lacks major functionality seen elsewhere—there are no forms for visitors to fill out or benefit applications to process," Nacin wrote.
In moving from Drupal to WordPress, the White House is joining a large community of organizations that rely on WordPress. In fact, WordPress is one of the most widely deployed CMS technologies on the internet today, powering 25 percent or more of all websites, according to some estimates.
The most recent WordPress update, 4.9.1, debuted on Nov. 29, providing incremental security fixes and improvements.
A core feature of WordPress since the 3.7 release in October 2013 has been automatic updates for incremental security fixes. The ability to automatically update WordPress sites for incremental security updates, without user interaction, is a critical capability that eWEEK wrote on at the time of the release as being a core foundation for mitigating security risks.
Overall, WordPress had two major feature releases in 2017, with WordPress 4.8 on June 8 and WordPress 4.9 on Nov. 16. Both releases added new features to help make WordPress easier to use and manage, while also improving both the security and stability of the platform.
As an open-source project, WordPress benefits from the learnings that come from the millions of organizations that deploy the technology. Time will tell if the WordPress project is able to benefit and learn from the new whitehouse.gov site as well.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.