US Air Force lets Web 2.0 flourish behind walls

Web 2.0 is helping service members and civilian employees find the information they need more quickly

Three years ago, authorities caught a terrorist, who went by the online handle "Irhabi007," who admitted to mining blogs for this kind of information, Estberg said. "If one American has lost his or her life because of this stuff, there is no honor in that," he said. "This is sheer stupidity."

And it's not just military personnel that the DOD has to worry about. The blogs of military spouses are also sometimes sources of sensitive information.

The specter of that concern fell over Adkins' project shortly after he launched his own blog on the intranet last September. A colleague at a conference told Adkins that the chief of staff of the Air Force had issued a policy letter banning personal blogging. After reading the letter, Adkins and his team thought about shutting down his blog but decided not to, reasoning that it wasn't a personal blog but the director's blog, and that it wasn't available to the general public.

"People in the Air Force, particularly our senior leaders, are afraid of the Internet," Adkins said. "They're afraid someone's going to post something that's not correct or something that's inappropriate."

The critical factor in the Air Force's new Web 2.0 tools is that they aren't on the open Web, Adkins said. Only service members or civilian employees who can get through the .mil firewall have access to any of them, according to Adkins. That includes PCs in offices, notebooks in the field and systems that users take home to log in securely through the firewall, he said.

The idea with all the new offerings is to help those inside the organization help each other, Adkins said. "The deep knowledge is really not on our Air Force Knowledge Now Internet site. It's really with people," he said.

Being able to share that information is especially critical in the military because members tend to be thrown into assignments on short notice and for a limited time, he said. People are often deployed to do a certain task for just four to six months, and if it takes a month to figure out on your own how to do it, that's a lot of wasted time, Adkins said.

Wikis are a key tool for sharing knowledge. There are about 13,000 work-oriented communities represented at AFKN, each administering its own wiki, Adkins said. Many of the communities take extra security measures, so 20 percent of the wikis are closed to people outside of that community, he said. Half of all the wikis hide some content, and only about 30 percent are open to anyone in the military.

Personal profiles let employees find people with the skills they need by searching. Users can fill out the fields they like and choose their own self-portrait.

"We haven't advertised it because we're not sure what people will do when they've figured out we're doing this," Adkins said. "We're already on the edge. We make people really nervous."

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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