From technological networks to social networks (1)

April 23, 2009

In my first post I alluded to my Twitter experiment and how it had been an eye opener for me in many ways, even in my field of research. The keyword again is network: through Twitter, I have established connections to people who are generally interested in the same ideas and who, through posting and interacting, enable me to question my own research practice whilst opening new areas of inquiry.

One of the people I follow who has contributed to my personal reflection on networks is Dr Mark Drapeau (aka @cheeky_geeky on Twitter), who works at the National Defense University in Washington DC. Together with Dr Linton Wells II, the holder of the Force Transformation Chair at NDU, he has recently published a very interesting working paper on Social Software and National Security that stresses the increasing interest, in defence circles, for the potential use of social networks. Their paper is available for download here.

In their paper, Drapeau and Wells notably focus on the functions of social software tools such as Facebook (social networking), Delicious (bookmarking), Flickr (photo sharing), YouTube and Gchat (audio/video messaging), Pbwiki (wikis), WordPress (blogging), and, of course, Twitter (microblogging). According to them, these tools accomplish four main functions:

1) Inward Sharing, or sharing information within the Department of Defense. This includes information sharing not only of lessons learned during military operations, but also intelligence gathering and analysis, human resources planning and contracting, dissemination of general office information, facilitation of communication and networking between warfighters’ families, and, more generally, coordination between offices and other units of an agency.

2) Outward Sharing, or sharing Department of Defense information with outside entities. It “includes various kinds of coordination and collaboration during the formal and informal Federal interagency process. It also encompasses sharing USG [ie US Governement] information with government, law enforcement, medical emergency, and other relevant entities at state, local, and tribal levels; and collaboration with partners such as corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or super-empowered individuals” (p. 8-9)

3) Inbound Sharing, which “allows government to obtain input more easily from citizens and even persons outside the country when appropriate.” Inbound Sharing includes “gauging public sentiment on issues in real time (not unlike instant polling), allows government to receive personal input on current topics of interest (perhaps even blunt and anonymous input), empowers the public to vote as part of online discussions about government issues, and provides a mechanism for crowdsourcing.” (p. 10)

4) Outbound Sharing, “whose purpose is to communicate with people outside the government, or empower them to communicate with each other. This function includes a complicated range of USG outreach efforts that include ICT deployment during stabilization and reconstruction missions, connecting persons in emergency or post-disaster situations, and communicating USG messages to foreign countries as part of public diplomacy efforts”. (p. 11-12) It also includes functions like using multimedia and social media for better communication with citizens as part of public affairs.

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