The Chronicle Gets Whurley About the City of Austin Website Campaign #OpenAustin #COAwebsite


City of Austin Web Site NEWS: The city web staff, including Gail Roper and Doug Marshall, will go before City Council June 18 to make the case for rebooting the redesign process. A revised request for proposal will be issued in July.

The Chronicle written a nice piece the City of Austin Website Project. And they have dutifully jumped on the Whurley/Open Austin bandwagon for photo ops and good press. I’m afraid I have a couple issues with the article for two reasons.

There is one BIG MISS in the reporting.

And an EVEN BIGGER MISS in the Open Austin plan.

The BIG MISS on the reporting: It was the TWITTER Activist process that paused City Council in their tracks.

When the issue was initially broadcast on Twitter, the Thursday before the Friday vote by the City Council. A group of Tweeters began rallying the troupes to demand a halt to the Cignex award. (I was but one of many who began to ReTweet the information to the twitterverse. I believe Lani Rosales of Social Media Labs proposed the hashtag #coawebsite that started the cascade of voices and ACTION that put the VOTE ON HOLD.

At this point #OpenAustin and did not exist. Mr. Hurley was not involved in the process or the tweeting activisit action that ensued.

There are a large number of posts (also predating Mr. Hurley’s press-aware-press-friendly entre into the discussion) that outline the situation and what the community response was that killed the Cignex RFP Fiasco. You can find links to those articles on an alternative #COAWebsite site Her is an excerpt from OM – City of Austin Website Fiasco! – What It Means to Our Community Moving Forward #COAwebsite (notice the hashtag in the title)

Additional stories about the issue:

The EVEN BIGGER MISS: The Open Austin plan. First off it’s not a plan. It’s a creative use of an idea generation and capture platform called IdeaScale. What Mr. Hurley and company did was launch a “campaign” to Open Source the City’s website really without a PLAN or any INFRASTRUCTURE to make that potential plan a reality. Here are my points that I posted on the OpenAustin Facebook page once it launched.

I’m not sure the logic is sound on this idea of Open Sourcing Austin’s web site for several reasons.

1. The city needs to name a vendor to be responsible for the budgets and accounting of the work to be done.
2. The RFP states the use of a HUB vendor for a portion of the work. [Sure the RFP is going to be rewritten, but my guess is HUB requirement will stand. Why would the city take it off?]
3. The Open model is great for development but not so great for delivering on-time solutions.
4. There a several different types of teams needed to undertake a site as large as the City of Austin website. Each team could be comprised of 2 – 5 members. Who would lead, elect and monitor these groups and keep the milestone delivery on track?
5. In the Open Source model, who do you hold accountable for problems, missed deadlines and disagreements?

Check out Whurley’s response on the OpenAustin Facebook page . I think he gets a few things right, but I still see HUGE (and I’m talking HUGE) holes in the idea.  As Whurley espresses it, “Many among us have suggested the idea of forming OpenAustin into a non-profit that they city would be able to work with on a contractual basis.”

evil-whurleyAnother point Mr. Hurley takes aim at my question about “deadlines” and accountability. Here is what he says on that topic, “While I still don’t see missed deadlines as an issue, this one is also easy. There will most likely be several groups of key contributors. Some paid, others volunteer. I would say that the people getting paid will probably also be the ones taking on the risk associated with delivering the project.[Yes that is correct, that is where the liability would fall, but where could the $$buck be served?]

And Whurley’s last point is this, “Your concerns are all valid, and once we figure out the relationship between OpenAustin and the City of Austin, we’ll work with them to address these and other concerns quickly, efficiently, and out in the open.”

Well he’s certainly got the attention of the Chronicle and the Austin American Statesman and there is no question in my mind that Whurley has his heart in the right place. Maybe there is some self-promo, i’m a “genius” and “evil genius” grandstanding going on, but I have no problems with Mr. Hurley championing the issue and bringing the Open Source model to the discussion.

I believe that what OpenAustin HAS done, and what will comprise 100% of the OpenAustin contribution is putting up the IdeaScale site to capture ideas.

Here are my extreme prejudices with the idea that Open Austin will form an entitity and take on the City’s site development project.

  1. The liability with a contract of this size is also a liability of the same size. So $800k contract, $800k liability. I suppose a non-profit of sorts could form and take out a bond or some other insurance against non-performance. Because that’s where the rub is. Glad to hear you have successful open source projects under your belt, but I can show you hundreds (see that have fallen behind and ultimately fallen apart due to lack of focus and accountability.
  2. So how could OpenAustin (an openaustin non-profit open source group) form a legal body that could be liable for the entire contract and terms of service agreements that would go along with it?

I am listening, but I am also envisioning a collaborative proposal involving 2- 3 local firms. One of the firms would have to be big enough to assume the liability of the entire contract. However, unlike the OpenAustin dream, these team players could have 3 major benefits.

  1. Already in existence,
  2. Already HUB approved and
  3. Already capable of assuming the performance and liability of an $800k contract.

I encourage everyone to join their voices together on the OpenAustin Idea platform. And I hope that the June 18th meeting with the City Council is productive.

I look forward to a healthy RFP process once the new criteria is released in July. A lot of people are interested in participating. I know I am. And who knows maybe Whurley can pull a rabbit out of his hat.


Here is the City of Austin Website page on MeterThis.

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