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Archive for January, 2007

Links, links, links

Like many bloggers, at several times during the day, I run across something in my RSS reader or on another Web site that I want to blog about. I either clip the blog post, or e-mail myself a note to come back to that issue in my blog.

Like many bloggers, I don’t have time to write about everything I want to.

So today, here are some quick links to things you might be interested in (that I wish I had more time to blog about when I first found them):

Terrorists Using Google Earth to Pinpoint Attacks
But is the information available on Google Earth anything that can’t be found elsewhere?

VoteVets Releases Ad Opposing Escalation
Unlike Appeal for Redress, VoteVets is transparent about who they are and why they oppose the war. Their founder even has his own blog.

I Hate the Common Access Card
Universally hated at the Pentagon. Check out this hillarious post that current and former Pentagonians can relate to.

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In the world of communication, there are times where less is more.

This instance is one of them.

In the past, I have come down on the Navy and the Marines for not using RSS to syndicate their news content, while applauding the Army and Air Force for their efforts.

Sorry guys, but today I have a beef with the Air Force.

For the past few months I have been subscribed to the Air Force’s RSS feed.

In the past week, there were 94 different news items that they sent across their feed. 94 different items.

And the problem is that a lot of this is stuff just doesn’t interest me. Like their perpetual sports reports from the Air Force Academy. Their CENTAF reports would have potential if they weren’t so boring. And some of their news stories are just plain outdated (such as this news story on an Airman who attended the State of the Union, which was published four days after the President’s speech).

I know some of the Air Force News folks, and they are all great. But seriously, I’m going batty with this deluge. I’m afraid my RSS reader will explode.

To the http://www.af.mil Web team, would you please consider segmenting your RSS feeds? You might not realize this, but you can have more than one. Think of how much more effective you will be in reaching your audience anyhow if they can subscribe to the news that they want to get.

Compare the Air Force approach to that of U.S. Central Command. In the past week, I have counted 16 news items that have posted to their Web site. I think this is a great number; it gives a continuous flow of information without overwhelming readers. Furthermore, CENTCOM several different RSS feeds that can be subscribed to —

In part two, I will take a further look at CENTCOM’s efforts — the highs and the lows — in their efforts to leverage positive military stories in the Middle East.

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CIA recruiting on Facebook

Mashup reports that the CIA now has a page on Facebook, the popular social networking Web site targeted at college students.

While interesting, I think this approach would be an even better fit for other intelligence organizations, such as NSA or NGA (or any other part of the intelligence agency alphabet soup). The CIA is probably the most famous intelligence organization in the world; I am sure that they don’t have any difficulty recruiting.

But they are looking for the best and the brightest, so reaching out to tech-savvy college students is a good idea. Overall, this is a great effort.

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Active Denial Buzzing Online Again

I posted about Active Denial before.

Well, it is back in the spotlight.

I don’t think that this will be the last we hear about the weapon system.

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You might have heard about the junior Senator from Montana, John Tester, who has opened up his schedule to his constituents on his Web site.

Tester (who I was impressed with during the campaign and continues to impress) signed on to the Punch Clock Campaign, an effort of the Sunlight Network, to make the process of government more open and transparent.

The position of the Sunlight Network (rightly so) is that while openness has always been an imperative in a democracy, the Internet makes openness easier to achieve. They called on candidates to post their daily schedules online (at the end of the day, for security reasons) so that the public knew what their members of congress were doing, who they were meeting with, and who was influencing the political process.

The foundation also has an interesting blog.

While the Sunlight Network has focused on the legislative branch, I think this would be an interesting concept to apply to the senior leaders at the Department of Defense — to every day be able to see what the senior secretaries and service chiefs are doing, where they are devoting their resources, etc.

As long as standards were set to ensure that sensitive information was not published, this could be a major advancement in the open government movement.

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In an online fight between a few thousand military bloggers and fifty communications professionals, who will win?

If Fenton Communication has their way, PR will come out on top.

The latest dust-up is over a a group that hired Fenton to do their public relations work called Appreal for Redress — an organization that milbloggers are suggesting is nothing more than a manufactured front group for anti-war zealots (underwritten by groups such as the Fourth Freedom Forum).

The concept for the site is that there is a number of troops who believe that we should not be in Iraq. Supposedly, this grassroots collection of troops has organized in support of the following statement:

As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq . Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.

Milbloggers say that this PR campaign is astroturfing (using false and artificial means to create the appearance of grassroots support without a sincere community uprising).

From Mudville Gazette:

This post originally appeared at MilBlogs in October, 2006. While some of the information uncovered herein has since made it’s way into smaller media outlets, most major mainstream media sources are still reporting this effort as a “grass roots” campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, the milbloggers have a point. There have been an estimated 500,000 service members who have deployed to Iraq since the invasion in 2003. Only 1200 have signed the Appeal for Redress on the Web site. Also, the Web site does not list the names of those who have signed the appeal, so there is no way to verify how many people who submitted their name are actually current servicemembers.

Clark Stevens is a Fenton Web guru and maintains a blog here (with a surprisingly military soundin name). I wonder if he can shed any light on the work they have done and/or provide any evidence that this is truly a grassroots effort.

So what is your take? Is this astroturf? And why hasn’t Fenton responded to the criticism of their tactic?

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I have to give a hand to VAMortgageCenter.com for executing an outstanding (and effective) online campaign by engaging bloggers.

For those who aren’t familiar, let me recap.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, contrary to popular belief, does not provide loans. They simply guarantee loans through other banks and lenders. VA Mortgage Center is an online service center (unaffiliated with the federal government) for former servicemembers to help get the loans they qualify for.

They knew their audience was online, so what better way to reach them than through online discussion?

VA Mortgage Center established a blog and basically turned ownership over to the milblogging communiuty. They let milbloggers vote on who they wanted to guest write at the blog, and the top vote-getters would be invited to write on their site.

As an added bonus, they decided to offer a prize of $3,000 to the top vote-getter and $250 to the rest of the top 10. (Note, many bloggers, when nominated, announced that they would donate their prize to charity, such as Project Valour IT).

The news of the contest spread virally, and in two short weeks the top 10 vote-getters received over 4,300 votes, plus over 150 blog posts about their competition. And they raised awareness of an otherwise obscure company to the forefront of an influential online community.

Not bad for a $5500 investment.

Here is the post on the winners of the competition. Check out all of the blogs in the top 11 — they are a great introduction to milblogs if you are currently not a regular reader.

What are your thoughts on the promotion? Do you think VA Mortgage Center’s approach was a good one?

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Well, U.S. Army, it looks like your British counterparts are a bit ahead of you when it comes to new media communication efforts — they are adding social media to their new Web site.

From Simon Wakeman:

… [T]he Army will for the first time be using content generated organically by employees as a marketing tool. Soldiers will be using the social networking features to create their own blogs or spaces, which strikes me as a great internal communications tool.

This content will then serve a second purpose to show people in the outside world what it’s really like in to be in the Army.

To let go of the marketing reins in this way is a brave move, but definitely to be applauded.

Using your employees to be your recruitment drive helps provide a genuine and more credible message about what it’s really like to work in an organisation.

I’m shocked that a military organization would do this. Shocked, but impressed. I never could have seen the U.S. Army doing something like this while I was working at the Pentagon. Granted, some commands, like CENTCOM and USAAC were more open to social media. But the flagship Web site of the Army? Not in a million years.

Way to go, Brits. And to the U.S. Army, take a cue from our friends across the pond.

As for me, I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from the British Web site.

(Thanks for the tip, Constantin!)

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It seems as if the Department of Defense is focused on blogs as the biggest threat to OPSEC in the new media realm. It may be, however, that they overlooking another possibility — wikis.

From the Washington Post:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources…

Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to a much more exacting scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency could provide. Wikileaks will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document for credibility, plausibility, veracity and falsifiability. They will be able to interpret documents and explain their relevance to the public. If a document comes from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document arrives from Iran, the entire Farsi community can analyze it and put it in context.

For those not familiar, wikis, such as the popular wikipedia, are information sharing sites that are completely maintained and updated by visitors — the community controls the wiki’s content.

Granted, wikileaks.org is designed to ferret out unethical behavior in government, but this exposes another problem — how difficult would it be to set up a wiki to lead information about DoD operations? Or other government secrets for that matter?

Something to keep an eye on…

(h/t e.politics)

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In the second installation of Through the Ringer, I bring you Hooah.com, the new social networking Web site for members of the military, military family members and those who support the troops.

hooah_main.jpg

For the non-military folks, Hooah! is a common Army phrase that can mean just about everything and anything except “no.” The site was started when founders Christian D’Andrea, Mark D’Andrea, Paul D’Andrea and Aaron Zelhart (founders of the Hooah! energy bar) noticed that there were dozens of social networks out there — but none dedicated to the military.

So they started one.

The site is just getting off the ground, but they are off to a great start. It has tons of community features, allowing members to share news, meet people and more. On top of that, the site is giving back to the community by donating time, effort and money back to the military.

Here is what Mark had to say about Hooah! when the D-Ring put him Through the Ringer:

(more…)

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