US Air Force lets Web 2.0 flourish behind walls

Web 2.0 is helping service members and civilian employees find the information they need more quickly

The US Air Force is using Web 2.0 technologies to better support its missions despite wariness about security, a civilian technology official of the service said last week.

The new techniques, including blogs, wikis and personal profiles, are coming out of an initiative by Air Force Knowledge Now (AFKN), a resource provided on the Department of Defense (DOD) intranet. They're helping service members and civilian employees find the information they need more quickly and are now being shared with members of the US Army, Navy and Marines, according to Randy Adkins, director of the Air Force's Center of Excellence for Knowledge Management.

Even though the Internet itself was originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), an arm of the DOD, the military is in some ways an awkward place for emerging Web technologies. User-generated content and social networking have a freewheeling, democratic reputation at odds with the top-down character of the military. Blogs operated by service members have even come under attack as being threats to security.

But within the walled-off world of the DOD intranet, they are helping the Air Force and other services operate, Adkins told attendees at the Social Networking Conference in San Francisco last week. Air Force members can post personal profiles, write blogs and podcasts, and contribute to wikis.

For example, an Air Force security specialist recently was ordered to build an armory in Baghdad, so he went to the Security Forces Community of Practice message board and asked how to do this. An officer at a base in the US had recently built one, so he posted the official instructions to the board along with tips from his own experience, Adkins said.

The response from service members has been positive, Adkins said. About 241,000 of the 600,000 people in the Air Force are registered users of AFKN, and about 5,000 new members are joining every month. Ten percent of members are from the Army or Navy, National Security Agency or third-party contractor companies, he said.

But some government officials have been wary of these types of technologies.

The personal blogs of military personnel are becoming an increasing operational security headache, said Rick Estberg, chief of staff with the National Security Agency's Department of Defense Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, speaking at a recent conference for federal security professionals.

Estberg has seen photos showing which types of bullets are piercing US Army Humvees and which are not, information on why mortars are not effective, and data on military personnel in Iraq and their habits that could help terrorists plan their attacks.

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