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GitHub Launches Government Portal, Opens New Offices

Earlier this month GitHub, the hosted collaboration platform that all but defined "social coding," launched a new portal site designed to encourage governments and public organizations to connect and share best practices. The new government portal is "dedicated to showcasing the amazing efforts of public servants and civic hackers around the globe," the company says.

The new portal was just announced, but we got an early peek when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee revealed that the city's municipal code would be posted on the GitHub platform on September 30 during the grand opening of GitHub's new South of Market headquarters. Lee used the event to kick off the city's second annual "Innovation Month," which celebrates the burgeoning tech-industry presence in San Francisco. (The festivities officially started on October 11.)

Posting SF's municipal code on GitHub will make it easier to navigate the dense layers of laws and amendments that affect the city's streets, parks, vehicles, building activities, land use, and public safety, Lee said. More access fosters greater understanding, he said. But more to the point, making the code available in "modern, programmer-friendly formats" opens a new, extremely creaky door to innovation.

"One of the things we're doing together is to get data out of the hands of bureaucrats, who just seem to want to sit on it and protect it...to where people can really use it," the mayor said.

GitHub has deep roots in San Francisco. The founders started their enterprise almost six years ago, the story goes, in a bar just a block from their new offices. The company's new digs, a restored dried fruit storage facility that withstood the 1906 earthquake and fire, includes a ground-floor space set aside for tech talks, meetups, and non-GitHub activities. The company hopes the space will foster what CIO Scott Chacon called "the serendipitous interactions that result in companies like ours."

"I don't think GitHub would exist if it weren't for the vibrant tech culture that exists here," Chacon said. "And we wanted to give back to that community."

From those roots a big organization has grown. The company has expanded its staff from an initial handful of employees to 210 today. More than 4 million users are currently collaborating on GitHub on 8 million projects, and the site sees 16 million unique visitors every month, according to the company.

GitHub, has become one of the world's most popular social coding sites. As I've pointed out before in this space, developers love the Git distributed version-control system developed by Linus Torvalds, and GitHub has played no small role in the growth of that popularity. The service has also enjoyed endorsements from the likes of the Eclipse Foundation, which has begun to allow the hosting of its projects on GitHub to attract new and maturing projects.

The company points to a number of existing GitHub projects now incorporated into the new Government portal, including the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada's Web Experience Toolkit, which allows for the creation of a set of shared templates for all government Web sites; and the City of Chicago's invitation to coders to issue pull requests from its Open Data Portal of bike routes, bike racks, pedway routes, street locations, and building footprints.

The new GitHub offices also include what I'm pretty sure is a unique reception area: It's a replica of the Oval Office, but instead of the Seal of the President of the United States, the rug features the company's multi-armed feline mascot/logo, the Octocat.

CEO Tom Preston-Werner explained the design to me at the office ribbon cutting: "Who are you if you're sitting on one of those couches in the real Oval Office? You're someone very important, and that's exactly how we want visitors to GitHub to feel."

I understand that a few industry wags have used this whimsical design as an example of high-tech-company wastefulness. I think it offers a peek into the workings of some creative minds.

Posted on October 21, 2013