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Starting your own Facebook- Lessons Learned from NASA's Spacebook Project

NASA is building a social network for Goddard Space Flight Center, codenamed “Spacebook”.

Spacebook Prototype

Spacebook Prototype

Spacebook is an enhanced Intranet designed around user profiles, forums, groups, and social tagging. The goal of the project is to use social media to help NASA be more competitive and innovative, encourage collaboration and information sharing, and take better advantage of the information & resources they already have. Emma Antunes (@eantunes), Project Manager for Spacebook, recently gave a great webinar to share how she approached this project, got the buy-in from users, contractors, and management, and other invaluable lessons she learned in getting this implemented.

I’ve capture my takeaways from her presentation on implementing an internal social network and listed them below.

  • Get buy-in from the suits.  You need a champion in a senior management office to sponsor the project.  Get them excited about what you’re doing.  This allows you to engage them to remove any roadblocks and they can give the bossy stink eye when needed.
  • Approach it like any other technical project; Design first, technology second.  Focus on solving a business problem.  Don’t just jump into new media because it’s what the cool kids are doing.
  • Be proactive.  Get your legal support, privacy office, security group, and accessibility team involved at the jump off.  Miss the boat on one of these areas and your project could get shut down faster than the revised Facebook Terms of Service.
  • Use exisiting resources where you can.  This increases management buy-in because you’re not asking for additional funding right of the bat.  Try to re-prioritize existing developer staff and take advantage of internal hosting, existing contracts, and open-source software.
  • Take the perspective of the employee to really understand what user needs are.  What’s going on?  What’s in it for me? How can I participate?  How do I get answers to my questions?
  • Don’t expect people to change their processes unless you give them a big incentive.  If you build it they won’t come, if you make their job easier, they will.  The new process must be easier than the old one.
  • Get web developers out of the content game.  They don’t want to do it and you don’t want to have to ask them for updates.  And honestly, they cost too much money anyway.  Let the people in charge of the material manage it.
  • No content should exist without an owner.  Integrate and complement content that you already have.  Don’t just replicate it in a new forum that requires additional maintenance.
  • Don’t give someone another inbox they won’t check, a new username and password to enter, make them request a new account, or fill-in information that you already know.
  • Engage early adopters and group owners and get commitment from them to post content regularly.
  • Even if your audience is a bunch of twenty-somethings, you still need to train them.  We may like technology but, we hate extra work.  Show me how I can use your product to make my job easier.

Related Reads:

The Facebook Phenomenon – How Government is Getting Into The Act,  on Socialfeds.

Up, Up, and Away! Five Tips for Launching an Internal Network, by Zack Miller (@zgovernment) on Govloop.

Kiss of Death for Social Networking Projects: “What is your Business Case?”, by Brock Webb on Govloop.

The Elements of Social Architecture, by Christina Wodtke on A List Apart.


State Department embraces new media tools

Franklin Delano Roosevelt popularized presidential radio addresses with fireside chats during the depression. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy participated in the first nationally televised presidential debate in 1960.  Following that illustrious history of cutting edge information technology in Washington, Hillary Clinton’s State Department has recently entered the twenty-first century by refurbishing the department website, improving its blog and even enabling citizens to “text the Secretary” with questions.

“Digital Diplomacy” is the phrase being used to describe the State Department’s mission to use Web 2.0 technology to increase awareness among citizens of foreign countries, and thereby improve attitudes toward the U.S. internationally. The State Department now operates a social networking site called ExchangesConnect where dialogue is encouraged among international users concerning foreign policy. When Hillary Clinton has travelled abroad this year, the traditional press corps bumped elbows with local bloggers from Asia and the Middle East. And this January saw an online debate between then-Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy James K. Glassman and a group of Egyptian bloggers, wherein 200 people participated via the Internet, nearly half of them from the Middle East.

But is online outreach good for diplomacy?  Some, like author and Web 2.0 consultant Rob Salkowitz, doubt the ultimate advantages of this approach.

“Diplomacy isn’t all about conversation and mutual understanding,” said Salkowitz. “Used correctly, it is the method states use to unite their allies and divide their enemies in order to forward their national interests. It is communication with a purpose, and the purpose comes first.”

Fair point, but isn’t increasing communication in and of itself a purpose? Few would argue the benefit of Hillary Clinton Tweeting about what pant suits she’s deciding between that day, but a little transparency into government processes and policies goes a long way. If risk communication has taught us anything, it’s that the less communication there exists between two groups, the greater the likelihood distrust will develop.

Clinton is undeniably optimistic on the subject of enhancing the State Department’s outreach effort, stating that “we’ve barely scratched the surface as to what we can use to communicate with people around the world” to the National Journal.

While serious international diplomacy may need to remain primarily face-to-face for the foreseeable future, reaching out across borders digital could yield more positive responses than negative. Foreigners using blogs and Twitter to peer directly into the lives of our top-ranking officials in Washington may develop the same phenomenon that makes us feel like we know the personalities of actors more personally, despite never actually meeting. Would this enable some to toss their far-flung beliefs about Americans’ overt consumerism and hubris? Perhaps. And that’s enough of a reason to experiment for now.

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EPA Launches Online Tools to Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22nd every year and, this time around, the US EPA will be celebrating it as part of Earth Month.  To begin Earth Month, EPA launched several online tools to help educate Americans about how to protect their health and environment.  One feature includes a video project on their YouTube channel for anyone (over age 13) to upload a video with the hopes of teaching and inspiring everyone to protect the environment.  You can find these great tools, and more, on the Earth Day web site.