Plone expands government user base

The free, open source content management system for websites is the first push towards consistency in ICT across the government

The development community behind Plone, an open source content management system (CMS) has been spreading the message further, after it was given a big boost through adoption by the State Services Commission at the end of last year.

The Commission is promoting Plone to other government agencies as part of the ongoing effort to introduce some measure of consistency and reusability in ICT across government. Plone’s is the first major open source push in this area.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has adopted Plone, sharing some of the code already used by the SSC, and InternetNZ is using it for its rejuvenated website.

As an open source product distributed under the GNU general public licence (GPL), Plone is available free of charge. Another significant advantage, says Cyrille Bonnet, of 3months.com, is that the community of more than 250 developers has so far produced about 260 add-on modules, called “products”.

There are products, for example, to add a wiki or a blog quickly to a Plone site, virtually “with a click” Bonnet says.

Plone is built on a platform called Zope, which “abstracts the operating system”, he says, providing the same set of operations no matter what the underlying computer platform is.

The structure of a number of products built onto the central system provides consistency while at the same time avoiding the “lock-in” associated with a monolithic product, Bonnet says. A CMS is bound to be strong in some areas and not others. “Some do publishing well; some are better at groupware.”

If none of the products available satisfy a particular need, another tool can be brought in and, provided it supports web services, interfaced smoothly through that channel to Plone.

Plone’s big attraction for government is that it supports the W3C standards for website accessibility. This capability has been tweaked for NZ government use to comply with the government’s own web guidelines.

This degree of compliance “means other government agencies can use it to build and manage their websites knowing that they are using best practice accessibility standards,” says SSC ICT branch head Laurence Millar.

Plone also has metadata management built on the Dublin Core standard which formed the basis for the government’s NZGLS metadata framework.

Plone can be complicated, concedes Bonnet, particularly when loaded with extensions. “Without guidance there can be a steep learning curve.” It is helpful to follow “best-practice” already established, he says. “There are lots of ways to solve each problem and the easiest solution is not necessarily the most appropriate.”

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