Mashable Mark

Government 2.0: An Insider’s Perspective

August 5, 2008 — 07:35 AM PDT — by Mark Drapeau

mark-headshotThis is the first of two posts written by Dr. Mark Drapeau about government 2.0.


Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what “social software” or “new media” really was. Sure, I was on Facebook and LinkedIn. I certainly used Wikipedia and Craigslist – in fact, I even wrote a newspaper opinion piece about how their business model related to terrorist networks. But, honestly, I really had no idea what was going on in the Web 2.0 space.

That all changed on March 3rd, when I attended the auspiciously named event, “Blogs Meet Booze” in Washington DC, on a lark. Interested in learning more about new media and related topics, I started attending events around the country like MashMeet DC REMIX at Ogilvy in DC, MashMeetNYC REMIX in SoHo, Community Next in Los Angeles, and Tech Cocktail Conference in Chicago. I quickly realized two things. One, social networking technologies have many military applications. Two, these geeks throw great parties.

The first sentence of Geoff Livingston’s book now is gone reads, “In life there are very few moments of clarity when you realize that things have completely changed.” And so began my adventures in Twitterland.



Some explanation of who I am is necessary here. Based inside a government think tank called the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, or CTNSP, led by Dr. Hans Binnendijk formerly of the National Security Council staff, I’m supposed to be thinking “big thoughts” all day as part of a fellowship program that recruits PhD-level scientists into public service with the federal government.

But wait a second, who am I to be analyzing social networking technology? Aren’t I a biologist who collects wild parasitic wasps from birds’ nests, videotapes tiny fruit flies copulating and was part of the international honey bee genome project? All true. But at a fundamental level, studying complex behavioral and genetic networks in animals is not so different from understanding human social networks. So to some extent, when it comes to explaining social software to military policymakers – I’m the perfect guy for the job.

And thus, recently I have been consumed with the question of: How can the government acknowledge, assess, and embrace social software? Slowly and with some collaborators including Dr. Linton Wells II who previously acted as the CIO of the Department of Defense, I have established a new research project called Social Software for Security, or S3 (everything in the military MUST have an acronym) at CTNSP. The general goals of S3 are to inventory available technologies, demonstrate effective uses of such technology throughout the government, identify impediments to use in the military, engage with experts to outline possible solutions, and ultimately make recommendations to the Department of Defense leadership on an overall military strategy for using social software for national security.

One of my overarching priorities has been to directly engage people in the community, rather than just read about them. In my travels to Web 2.0 events most people I meet are surprised that someone from the government or the Defense Department is interested in what they are doing. So while the social networking space has good ideas and technologies, and we are to some extent using the technologies, I realized that the Department of Defense is definitely underutilizing the human resources in the community. Hence, while there certainly are people thinking about Web 2.0 in the nation’s capital (and how to make a buck off it), few of them have actually met the thought leaders in the field, particularly among bloggers and new startups – despite their eminent accessibility.

My travels and conversations on Twitter and elsewhere have introduced me to many thought leaders, trends and technologies in the field of social networking. I have transformed from an outside observer to a participant and somewhat of an enthusiast. And while in each case for companies like kluster, ooVoo, Searchles, Qik, and others there are limitations for immediate use by the military or other parts of the federal government, particularly for computer systems security and classified information sharing reasons, the important point is the idea behind the company’s reason for success, not necessarily the precise technology or website.

Forrester Research recently published data showing that companies are increasingly adopting social software for various uses, and furthermore that larger companies, on average, were more likely to be adopting “enterprise 2.0” systems. This, no doubt, is because once an organization achieves a certain size, feedback loops allow the formation of complex adaptive systems that are inherently unpredictable.


Our current national security situation presents an additional reason to adopt social tools. Like the Red Queen tells Alice in the famous [], “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The reality of our current co-evolution with threatening terrorist networks is that they are using Internet technologies quicker and better than we are in many cases. At a recent speech in Arlington, VA, the current Navy CIO Robert Carey said, “The Internet is Al Qaeda’s command and control center.” Like Alice, we need to catch up in the race, just to stay even; and run twice as fast to pull ahead.

After learning a lot about social software in the last few months, I can safely conclude that these technologies have many potential benefits for our military forces and associated civilians. The most commonly-stated objection to the incorporation of social software into national security operations is that malware could be implanted or the social tools could otherwise provide access into government systems, thereby reducing network integrity. To be sure, cybersecurity in the “wild West” of the Web 2.0 world, particularly for the federal government, is an expensive and very serious issue, and this is one area where governments differ from corporations. When Coke’s recipe or Google’s search algorithm get out, there are certainly serious consequences, but ultimately, people don’t die. The government has a higher standard.

The defense, intelligence, and diplomatic components of the government also have missions that are unique to them, not generally seen in corporations. For example, besides overt public affairs – the person behind the podium or the press release – there are also information operations designed “to shape the emotions, motives, reasoning, and behaviors of selected foreign entities.” So, in some cases, the military will use new media overtly, in other cases messages will be attributed to other entities (e.g., a foreign government partner), and in still others the messaging will not be traced back to the U.S. at all.

With regard to Web 2.0 in a secure government environment, the country’s intelligence community is doing it right. Their INTELINK system is a walled-off group of sites that allow sophisticated online collaboration and increased communication at different levels of security. Users can obtain enterprise email, write and edit articles on Intellipedia, look up employee’s profiles and contact information, author blogs, tag news articles, and more. Yesterday, I registered for an upcoming conference within the system on a secure wiki, looked up the backgrounds of other registrants, and contacted one of the organizers.

The INTELINK system is a sophisticated, powerful product from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). While initially it was only for the intelligence community, more and more they are opening the system so that it can be used by people in other parts of the government – and this is being encouraged. This is excellent progress in the midst of a culture shift from “need to know” into “need to share.” As John Hale, the man at ODNI who manages Intellipedia said at a recent event at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, VA: “It’s not about technology. It’s about people and information sharing.”

Nevertheless, I believe that Social Software for Security is a much larger issue than that. While the government certainly has unique security requirements that should and will be assuaged, I see many applications for Web 2.0 technology that go far beyond military, intelligence, diplomatic, homeland security, and law enforcement communication on private channels.

In my next Mashable post, I will develop a preliminary “theory of social government,” outline the three key missions where social software can be incorporated in different ways, and discuss two projects where my Social Software for Security project has made inroads toward incorporating off-the-shelf Web 2.0 into ongoing Defense Department-related activities.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at vog.vogu|uaepard.d.kram#vog.vogu|uaepard.d.kram via email.



External Referance

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License