Agencies advance use of online social networking tools

Government agencies are moving well beyond the experimentation stage in adapting online social networking tools to advance internal collaboration and in reaching out to citizens. Efforts by the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the intelligence community were among a number of working examples attracting public and private sector interest in Web 2.0 technologies at what is being billed as the largest Web 2.0 conference on the East Coast in Reston, Va., today.

Janice Nall, director of eMarketing at the Centers for Disease Control, highlighted the various ways CDC is reaching out to the public using social networking and communications methods techniques. Many of the tactics, she said, are viewed internally as pilot projects, but are clearly making an impact. Among them:
  • eCards ' giving consumers ways to send greeting cards that share health related messages with family members.
  • Podcasts ' CDC has downloaded more than half a million Podcasts this year featuring health related information.
  • Virtual worlds ' CDC opened a virtual flu clinic on Whyville.net, a site that explains a wide range of topics for children. Nall said 135,000 individuals visited the clinic which led to 20,000 vaccinations in a six-week period. CDC is also expanding its presence in Second Life, beyond a gallery of posters, toward hosting virtual health workshops.
  • Social networks ' The agency is establishing a new presence on MySpace beginning next week, Nall said, but is also concentrating on posting resources and application widgets on three other sites, eons.com (targeted at those over age 50), DailyStrength.org and sermo.com (a physician-centric site).

CDC is also concentrating new efforts in linking its experts with recognized bloggers in the health care field, testing e-game events and sending health alerts and local clinic information via mobile phones.

Meanwhile, Andrew Hoppin, director of NASA's Ames Research CoLab, showed how NASA is attempting to expand its research efforts collaboratively online using its own three-dimensional, virtual meeting space.

'It's difficult to work with NASA if you don't have relationships and you're not in the social network (with NASA scientists),' Hoppin said. When efforts to build a physical collaboration facility in San Francisco foundered, the NASA research center decided to build a virtual center instead. The facility has allowed contributors to attend online conferences and briefings on a more frequent basis, without having to travel around the world, and has accelerated the exchange of scientific ideas, Hoppin said.

Chris Rasmussen, who leads support efforts for the U.S. Intelligence Community's Intellipedia program, spoke about the transforming role wikis, blogs, mashups and social information tagging are playing in government, and which some regard, are out in front of efforts in the private sector. The Intellipedia site now has 37,000 users ' including 20,000 working with top secret projects and 10,000 on classified projects, he said.

Rasmussen is among the emerging generation of information technology leaders in government advocating that government workers abandon e-mail and PowerPoint slide presentations in favor of online information posting, tagging and collaboration tools.

Interest in his group's intensive two-day training program has quickly begun to outstrip Rasmussen's ability to conduct classes in classroom settings, he said, and he is now exploring how to effectively conduct online training tutorials.

Brand Neimann, senior enterprise architect at the Environmental Protection Agency, and a long-time advocate of wikis and collaboration tools in government, noted that EPA Chief Information Officer Molly O'Neill and other members of the federal CIO Council are looking at the potential for incubating collaborative technologies to advance the work of federal agencies. He also responded to concerns about opening traditionally controlled environments to the world at large by noting three rules for government wikis worth following: People need to register their true identities; they need to post their qualifications; and 'trouble makers are dismissed rapidly.'

David C. Wyld, professor of management at Southeastern Louisiana University, and author of a recent report, 'The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0,' shared his advice with government executives in the audience on how best to get started blogging in the Web 2.0 era:
    1. Define yourself and your purpose

    2. Do it yourself

    3. Make a time commitment

    4. Be regular

    5. Be generous

    6. Need a 'hard hide' - be able to take criticism

    7. Spell check

    8. Don't give too much information

    9. Consider multimedia (we're moving away from text only content)

    10. Be a student of blogging.

The Web 2.0 for Business conference was conducted by Potomac Executive Biz and drew more than 800 attendees, making it the largest conference on the topic on the east coast, said Jim Garretson, ExecutiveBiz president.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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Reader Comments

Sun, Apr 5, 2009 Sheila

Interesting article. Including links to the web 2.0 business conference and links to profiles of the people mentioned in the article would be helpful.

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