Open Source Part of Clark Campaign’s ‘Platform’

By Sean Michael Kerner

Organizers for Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark are making open source part of the candidate’s platform with plans to release new “campaign-ware” open source applications this week.

According to a group of Clark volunteers called TechCorps, the effort is a way “for developers, software testers, and technical writers to develop open source software to run political campaigns.”

The move is one of the latest among politicians to embrace the Internet as a distribution method for campaign communications and, as in the case of Democratic presidential candidate (and current front-runner) Howard Dean, for tapping into online grassroots movements in order to raise campaign funds and recruit volunteers.

Prior to the Clark campaign’s announcement of the open source development project, the group’s technical department had a core development team of five individuals and twenty volunteer contributors. But now, the number of developers interested in contributing to the development project using open source has grown to more than 100, according to Josh Hendler, TechCorps project manager.

“It’s been incredibly hectic and there has been a lot of interest,” Hendler told Monday. “The biggest challenge is making sure that everyone’s skills are being matched to projects.”

He said the Clark ’04 campaign has been using open source software for a number of reasons, partly because of the campaign’s need for rapid development and deployment. Now, the TechCorps volunteers are looking to release free campaign-ware to the open source community.

Hendler said TechCorps will be releasing several key projects this week. They include a blogging tool called CCN, and parts of the Clark Campaign Data Suite, the tool used to manage workflow for the campaign. The Clark Recruiting Tool has already been released and a field campaigning tool called FieldWare will be part of a later release set, he added.

The TechCorps projects are being released under the open source BSD license, rather than general public license , though Hendler admits that TechCorps is, “not religious about any specific license.”

“We’re not taking a position that any license is better than another,” he said. “BSD is a very simple license and it was easy to get internal approval on it. I definitely expect us to allow development under a number of different licenses in the near future.”

Campaign planners at Clark headquarters have some catching up to do when it comes to exploiting the Web and technology volunteers. First, the Clark campaign was criticized for not embracing its online followers when Clark officially launched his bid.

In addition, his rival Howard Dean has had months of lead time running a well-publicized blog; the former Vermont governor’s use of online tools is widely credited with helping to transform the way campaigns are run in the U.S. Plus, a community project called DeanSpace (which is not part of the official campaign) is producing an open source community blogging tool as well.

The latest moves also show that developers see an opportunity to build free, open source applications for campaigns, at a time when the Internet is growing into a valid platform for 2004 presidential hopefuls outside of television and live appearances.

According to a September Online Publishers Association report, nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters are turning to the Internet for more information about candidates.

Earlier reports by both the Institute for Politics Democracy and the Internet (IPDI) and the Pew Internet & American Life Project said politicians are keen to the trend.

According to Hendler, the decision to use open source tools for development by the Clark ’04 team was not rooted in any philosophical attachment to open source software or to compete with the DeanSpace campaign-ware work. Rather, it was fed by necessity.

“I don’t think this project would have been possible without there being a really accepting attitude towards open source for this campaign,” Hendler told

He acknowledged that Clark’s campaign started late and needed to ramp up extremely fast. Modifying existing open source tools to meet the demands of the campaign was the fastest route to live implementation. According to Hendler, the team didn’t have the time to shop for a vendor in the first place, let alone deal with associated time delays of customization.

“Part of the great thing about open source is we can take some of these applications that are already built and modify them on the fly without having to go back to the vendor,” he said.

The decision to use and deploy their campaign-ware as open source also was a question of available resources. Hendler admitted the technical team barely had the resources in the beginning to produce the basic necessities of a modern technical infrastructure. By tapping the open source community, TechCorps has expanded its team of developers, and as an added benefit, its security as well.

“Within an hour of us uploading our first piece of software, people were already looking at it and auditing it and asking us about potential security issues,” Hendler said.

The TechCorps-developed campaign-ware, through open source release, has the potential to do good for more than just the Clark 04 Campaign, Hendler said.

“We feel in many ways that this development goes beyond the Clark campaign,” he said. “The dedication to the development of free and open campaign-ware is an important goal in and of itself.”

The applications are available via download at TechCorps website.

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