April 12, 2010 By Russell Nichols
The "need to know"-style government of the Cold War era is looking more and more prehistoric in this post-9/11 age. If you want proof, look no further than the U.S. State Department, which recently announced plans to launch an internal Facebook-like site called Statebook.
Spearheaded by the department's Office of eDiplomacy, the site will use social media tools on a secure network to help employees and diplomatic officials scattered around the globe to communicate, collaborate and more easily identify experts in specific fields, according to Richard Boly, director of eDiplomacy.
"Social media is not just a passing fad for kids," Boly said. "It's a serious and useful tool for knowledge management and collaboration, and that's beneficial to any organization. It's a way to collaborate with experts and develop a community bigger than their immediate reach."
The push for transparency and collaboration has federal departments, and state and local governments across the country flocking to the Internet, using social media tools to interact in new ways. Some social networking projects have been praised, such as the YouTube channel launched by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Other efforts -- such as Michigan's purchase of a $1.15 million college access Web portal -- have been criticized for redundancy when sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter already exist.
But as more governments publish data online, privacy remains a top priority. The first half of 2009 saw a "steep rise" in cyber-attacks targeting Web 2.0 sites, making these sites the most commonly attacked market with 19 percent of all incidents, according to the Web Hacking Incidents Database (WHID) in a bi-annual report released in August 2009.
The security parameters would separate Statebook from existing social networking sites. Protected by the firewall, Statebook represents the latest in a number of the department's Government 2.0 efforts including Diplopedia, an internal wiki for diplomatic employees, which launched in 2006 and, as of February 2010, has amassed more than 10,000 articles and 2,000 registered contributors. With Statebook, officials hope to accomplish similar avenues for the exchange and delivery of pertinent data.
The plan, Boly said, is to test the site with a beta group of 300 to 400 users for feedback. He believes employees will appreciate how easy the site is to use, especially when it comes to finding credible experts. Currently, Boly said, there's no quick way to locate, for example, experts in intellectual property rights in Asia or civil aviation negotiations or even social media tools. But this network will eliminate those barriers by allowing employees to post profiles that other users can validate, and link to critical resources, articles or posts they've contributed to other Web-based communities.
"If you're sharing something on your [Statebook] profile," Boly said, "the idea is that it's information that you want to share with your colleagues."
To that effect, Boly added, the site is actually more akin to professional networking site LinkedIn. Nonetheless, this type of networking was the reason the Office of eDiplomacy was set up seven years ago -- to help shift the government from the old world of keeping secrets into a new world, Boly said, "where if we can't share this information and find a way to aggregate it, we won't identify threats."
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