Data.gov.uk using Drupal

Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt unveiled Data.gov.uk today. The new website offers public sector data, ranging from traffic statistics to crime figures, for private or commercial use. It is designed to be similar to the Obama administration's data.gov project, run by Vivek Kundra, Chief Information Officer in the US.

What is exciting is that Data.gov.uk uses both Drupal and various semantic web technologies to encourage people to create data mashups and to visualize the data in clear, imaginative ways that provide more insight in the underlying information. It is great to see that Open Source, Open Data and government meet, and it is great validation for Drupal's adoption of the semantic web. Hot stuff!

Data gov uk

Comments

Rob Dean (not verified):

That is great, but not sure why they troubled themself with Mediawiki. I think their wiki functionality could have just as easily handled within Drupal, keeping everything within one system.

January 21, 2010 - 16:51
Usamah (not verified):

This is true, changing MediaWiki's interface in the way they did, takes a tremendous amount of work. But maybe they're predicting major collaborative work that would necessitate a wiki engine as sophisticated as MediaWiki.

January 21, 2010 - 21:31
Leo Pitt (not verified):

Hi Rob,

I actually disagree with you on Drupal's wiki compared to Mediawiki.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of Drupal CMS: As a web developer, Drupal and it's community have enabled me to produce good sites for clients, with great features, at a fraction of the cost that would have been necessary previously.

But Mediawiki is still noticeably better than Drupal's wiki - which is why I use Mediawiki as an in-house knowledge-base rather than Drupal.

I'm not sure exactly why Mediawiki seems so much better. For some reason, it is much easier to organically add and organise content with Mediawiki. It is very good at allowing users to add random notes without - requiring any categorisation, but also subsequently allowing those random notes to organically grow into well organised features and be absorbed into categorisation, without any advance planning being required.

I'd love to be proved wrong.

However, compare the ease of navigating and updating Wikipedia to the ease of navigating and updating Drupal's online documentation... I think it's clear that Mediawiki comes out of the comparison better.

January 22, 2010 - 14:37
Steve Parks (not verified):

It's great to have another public sector site on drupal, and great that it's a UK one, but this site has apparantly been done on a 'shoestring budget' according to the government department concerned (quoted by the BBC) - and unfortunately it shows in a few places.

In particular they weren't geared up to handle the predictable spike in day 1 traffic, despite having 6 months of soft launch previously. So the site was having major problems today. Slow page loads, cryptic (to end users) error messages, and timeouts.

Looking at the source, it turns out they haven't even switched on basic css and js aggregation. That's just a simple tickbox in the admin user interface - so who knows what other, more in-depth, performance optimisation they didn't understand or get round to.

They're using Pressflow core on Apache, with Varnish - which should be able to handle an awful lot of traffic if properly configured - depending on the spec of the server they put it on. The Economist is proving this, among many other sites.

My concern is that Drupal is often wrongly accused, by detractors who don't bother to do their research, of not being scalable - and a poorly planned launch like this only gives them ammunition.

In the US there are the big Drupal shops such as Dev Seed, Lullabot etc who are established and able to pitch for some big, impressive projects. Then they deliver an amazing job because they really know drupal inside out (mostly because they're heavily involved in building it!). But in the UK our drupal industry is on a smaller scale at the moment.

The site appears to be hosted by a company called Claritas Solutions. They're a Microsoft Gold Partner, and don't appear to have any Drupal case studies on their site, or any references to Drupal at all. I don't know whether they built it or just host it - but this may be a case of a public sector organisation deciding it wants to go with Drupal, and putting it out to tender only to organisations on public sector procurement lists already, rather than approaching Drupal developers specifically who won't yet be on these pre-approved lists.

This suggests some challenge to the Drupal community (in the UK in particular):

1. Can we offer training and support to these medium to large web agencies who are now being asked by their clients to 'do it in drupal' because of the high profile prublic sector projects in the US? This would ensure that they understand how Drupal does things and can implement it properly - meaning drupal itself doesn't get the blame for their lack of knowledge of how to implement it.

2. Is a 'drupal buddy' programme worthwhile where non-drupal web agencies can easily find and hire a drupal buddy to help their team?

3. Should drupal agencies, who are often too small for public sector projects, and consultants form consortia to get on tender lists, and bid together for these projects? I'd be interested in helping get a UK consortium together.

Drupal is on the verge of becoming the specified system for public sector projects - we just have to make sure these sites are built properly to secure that position.

Steve

--
Steve Parks
Pilot Internet

January 21, 2010 - 16:52
Steve Parks (not verified):

By the way - I don't want the criticism in my previous comment to detract from what they did right. They've done a really nice design job on this.

January 21, 2010 - 16:54
Andy Walpole (not verified):

It's interesting that they have choosen Drupal although choosing some sort of Open Source CMS would make ideal sense due to what data.gov.uk is about

This project has been receiving a lot of media coverage here in the UK and it's quite a plus mark for Drupal to be associated with it.

January 21, 2010 - 19:03
prbass (not verified):

Been all over this today, didn't even check it was on Drupal.

@steveparks - its amazing how many production sites you see that don't have css / js aggregation turned on considering what a performance boost it gives.

January 21, 2010 - 19:17
Andrew Macpherson (not verified):

I'm impressed that they have made their SPARQL search form very obvious - it's up there in the primary links! More often, this would be buried inside a developer wiki.

January 21, 2010 - 21:06
Rob Carr (not verified):

Looks like the design was by Oxford-based ethical agency Torchbox

January 22, 2010 - 05:36

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