Thursday, March 8, 2007

Let It Be

Our conversation on Tuesday sparked an idea.  An idea, that in retrospect, seems so obvious and simple that there is no doubt about it.  It is an idea whose time has come.  An idea that makes one put palm to forehead in the universal gesture of "duh."

The idea is:  Employees must take over the Forest Service intranet.

No, we're not talking about a web site or a discussion forum.  We're hijacking the whole blue-corn enchilada, i.e. the sites formerly known as FSWeb.
Why not?Nobody is using it now anyway.   
The thing is just an ugly green filing cabinet stuffed with musty forms and directives.  Let's just put in a corner somewhere and get moving with a dynamic, user-generated network that is useful, powerful and effective.   Let this be a platform for all employees.

Let it be sandbox where we can play and learn.
Let it be laboratory where we can experiment and innovate.
Let it be a market where we can exchange ideas, services and goods.
Let it be whistle where we can blow off steam.
Let it be a soapbox where everyone's voice is heard.
Let it be...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Using Social Media -R2/R3 PAO Conference -Santa Fe, NM

Introduction - "Joining the conversation."

Over the past five years, the World Wide Web has gone through a subtle but enormous change.

Since the Dot Com bust in 2000, when a dozen web sites went broke trying to sell pet food online, the Internet has returned to its roots.  Now, the most popular sites are those that allow the visitor to participate as a member of a networked community.

In its infancy, the Internet was a place where people gathered in chat rooms and discussion groups.  These applications took a back seat as the huge commercial potential of the Web was first being mined in the 1990s.  But the online killer apps have always been tools such as email and instant messaging that help people to connect with each other, however these tools were not designed for large groups.

Recent developments in software technology have led to an explosion in the participatory capacity of the Web. Virtual worlds now exist where people interact on an unprecedented scale.  They work together, share their creative products, play games, innovate new technologies, solve scientific and social problems, and engage in the democratic political process.

The Web has been transformed from a channel for delivering information to a platform for participation and collaboration.

Collectively, this new world has been called Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 tools are sometimes called social software and the applications are sometimes referred as social media.  These include a strange new vocabulary of  terms and acronyms such as blog, wiki, podcast, SaaS, AJAX, Mashup, RSS, XML, and SEO  We'll define and examine some of these in a few minutes.

This phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed as indicated by Time Magazine's choice for Person of the Year in 2006 -- You.

Why are social media important for those of us in the Forest Service public affairs community?

  • They offer powerful communication tools such as news feeds and narrow casting.
  • The traditional methods of doing public relations are being challenged (see PR 2.0).
  • Web 2.0 facilitates collaboration across organizational boundaries and from many locations, allowing us to work with partners, and to get more done at lower cost.
  • It allows us to read and analyze what others are saying about us (e.g. web forums like ).
  • A Net Generation is emerging that does not rely on information from traditional news media, advertising or the government.  They trust peer-to-peer relationships and they are always online.
So, as we go through some definitions and examples of these platforms, please write down your thoughts on the following:
  • How might we use these tools in  Forest Service public affairs work?
  • How might we use these tools in other aspects of Forest Service work?
  • What are the barriers to using these tools and how can we overcome them?
We'll save some time at the end of this talk to discuss your ideas and post them to this blog.


What are the characteristics of Social Media?  They are like the web itself - nobody owns them, everybody uses them, anybody can modify or add to them.

1) Sharing - "information wants to be free - bits are made to be copied."
2) Mass Collaboration  - "the network is the computer"
Commons-based peer production  e.g. Human Genome Project
Global research, development & manufacture  e.g.  Innocentive
Parallel processing e.g. SETI@home

3) User Generated - "we are the media"
Citizen journalism  e.g.
Social networking  e.g.
Content communities  e.g. YouTube.comflickr

How do people interact with all this information?

RSS allows the user to subscribe to information sources that they want. Examples of RSS feed readers include Google ReaderBloglinesNewsgator
Web browsers, blogs (like this one) and web portals can have RSS feeds built into them.
Thy are very simple to implement and easy to use.

Social bookmarking site allows visitors to collect and share useful web sites with others.  Users create descriptions about these sites called tags.   Collectively, these tags create a folksonomy  or tag cloud of terms around that subject.  Tagging is a low cost, flexible and creative way to generate metadata that can be
used by search engines or for
search engine optimization (SEO).

Sites such as Technorati and digg  are aggregators  that compile blog posts and news articles based upon their
popularity. Members comment on, blog, rate and forward these stories.  The more popular the story, the more it is featured.

Individuals are using open APIs and their own hacks on sites like Google Maps and craigslist to create mashups that combine the data and functions of both to make a new platform such as

Another example of a mashup is OpenCongress which combines government data, news stories and blog posts with the goal of increasing the transparency of the legislative process.

Yet one more example is the Creative Archive which is a collaboration among the BBC, Channel 4, Open University and others in the UK.  They are opening their vaults and giving a free license to anyone who wants to create a new work with their vast collection of moving images, audio and stills.

Three Examples of Social Media - Wikis, Blogs and Podcasts
1) Wiki
is a web site that allows visitors to add and edit content.  It comes from the Hawaiian word for "fast."

The most popular example is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia.  It currently has over 1.6 million articles written and edited by thousands of volunteers. 
  • It has no limitations on the size or number of entries.
  • The entries are continuously updated and corrected -- the error rate is roughly the same as the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
  • It has articles in 250 languages.
  • The stated goal of Wikipedia is to give every person in the world free access to the sum
    of all human knowledge
And of course there many other examples with less ambitious goals:


Wikis are emerging everywhere,  from travel guides to text books.  Sites like Wetpaint are wiki farms that allow anyone to create their own wiki on any subject.  Companies like SocialText provide wiki software for business.

How can wikis be useful to organizations?

Everyone is an expert in something - usually having to do with their job. Organizations need to capture that knowledge.  This is the difference between information management and knowledge management.  

Studies have shown that many business process reengineering efforts fail because they look only at data about process not at how the process actually works within the organizational culture.
Technology should exist to serve the culture not the other way around.  Most knowledge workers do not manage process, they manage exceptions to process.  Wikis are a way for people to track these exceptions, share solutions, and create a knowledge-base for the organization.  Think Albuquerque.

2) Blog -
is a user-generated website where entries are made in a journal style.  The term is a contraction of Web Log.  It is essentially a way for anyone to self-publish on the web.

There are literally millions of blogs.  Everyone, it seems, has a blog. Collectively they make up the blogosphere.  While there many individual blogs with large followings, (e.g. daily kos,
boingboing, and TechCrunch) many of which cover political or technology issues, the pulse
of the collective bloggers is captured by sites like Technorati.  This information is of huge benefit for anyone interested in politics, marketing, popular culture, fashion and other trends.

How can blogs be useful for organizations?

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz has blogged for many years, and he encourages others at Sun to do the same.  He finds that is the best way to share his ideas and engage his
employees, partners, shareholders and customers.  His blog provides an up-to-date perspective on his vision, and how current events are affecting the company.  It can provide both a personal connection and greater corporate transparency, if done correctly.  Blogs can also be delivered in audio or in video formats.

3) Podcast -
is a media file that is distributed on the Web for playback on portable media players and personal computers.  The term is derived from Apple's iPod. Listeners and viewers can subscribe to podcasts via RSS.  They are most commonly audio, but can also be video, stills or text or any combination of these.

Podcasts started out with radio programs, but were soon used for language lessons, audio tours, and public safety messages.  There are thousands, if not millions, of podcasts on the Web.  Apple's iTunes was the first, and still one of the major aggregators of podcasts;
others include and Yahoo! Podcasts

How can podcasts be useful for an organization?

A podcast can be used for internal or external marketing, capturing information from a 
conference, delivering executive speeches, sharing success (or failure) stories, explaining complex processes, corporate training, etc.   A small collection of podcasts
produced by the federal government is online at  

 PR2.0, or The Death and Re-birth of the Press Release

On February 27th, Tom Foremski posted an article in his Silicon Valley Watcher blog.  The title was "Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!"
His comments elicited a lot of reactions from the blogosphere, but the general thrust of his article is that public relations has to change with these new forms of social media.

Some have taken up this challenge to design a new type of press release that incorporates the elements of Web 2.0.  Todd Defren of Shift Communications jumped into the fray first with a social media press release form (version 1.0) and then with a Social Media Newsroom template.

A short time later, PRXBuilder appeared online with a new tool for creating your own social media press release.

And so goes the conversation....