Intellipedia provides lessons for FedSpace initiative

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

FedSpace is the latest entrant into the federal social networking space. The goal is to bring together civilian agencies working on similar topics and to make sharing of information easier through a single platform.

But before the General Services Administration, which is leading the FedSpace effort, jumps in full bore, they should heed some lessons learned from some of the veteran government social media leaders.

“One of the things that was core for us was we didn’t try to create a single tool that did everything,” says Don Burke, one of the co-founders of Intellipedia. “We created a series of tools that all worked together through the power of the link. I would encourage folks who want to create these environments not to use the term one-stop-shop. Create a series of tools that do something well and connect them all together.”

GSA announced FedSpace April 27 at the Federal Web Manager’s University Conference.

Tiffany Smith, a developer on detail to GSA from the State Department, said at the Web Managers University conference that FedSpace will “provide broader, and yet more secure options for everyone who needs them. There will be an integrated suite of tools that will make it easier for employees to connect to others, and to share knowledge across the federal enterprise.”

FedSpace should be launched this fall, Smith adds.

Burke, who now works for the CIA, and other intelligence community social media experts detailed lessons learned as well as best practices during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Knowledge Management Conference in Washington sponsored by 1105 Government Information Group.

Just over four years ago, the 16 intelligence agencies launched Intellipedia and a blogging tool. Intellipedia is a wiki on the unclassified, secret and top secret networks where intelligence employees can more easily post, share and access data.

“Our core things that made [Intellipedia] successful were first and foremost it was openly editable for everyone, it had a broad audience-all you needed was a authenticated user ID-and then you could contribute what you know,” he says. “This was the truly unique aspect that Intellipedia and its suite of tools brought to the table.”

Over the past four years, the wiki has been institutionalized, Burke and others say. Now Intellipedia is part of a broader set of tools under IntelLink that includes video, picture and document sharing applications.

And more tools are coming, including the ability to mash-up data, add geospatial capabilities to information and embed video, widgets and RSS feeds, Burke says.

Alex Voultepsis works on IntelLink for the Office of the Director for National Intelligence. He says there are more than 250,000 users on Intellipedia with more than 75,000 contributors on the top secret portion, more than 72,000 on the secret level and more than 36,000 on the unclassified portion of the site.

Voultepsis adds that users search the secret section of the site 1.3 million times a week and the top secret portion more than 1 million times a week, and users send more than 1 million instant messages daily.

“We adopted what was successful on the open Internet,” he says. “You have to meet your users’ needs. If you don’t do that, no one will use the tools.”

Bill Balko, who is a senior business analyst in the Defense Information Systems Agency’s chief information officer’s office, says his agency put budget planning documents on a portal on IntelLink last year and the impact has been significant.

“The portal is the facing page the users use,” he says. “I collect and use lessons learned. I analyzed them and found that all of the complaints for the past two years have disappeared, ‘I can’t find anything’ or ‘I don’t know where my funding documents are.’ I engineered the portal with the concept that no document, whether PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheet or any other document, should be more than three clicks away.”

Balko says each program has subfolders that were set up the same way so when users put new documents in the portal, they still were three clicks away.

Burke says the goal is to create something that is vibrant, social and relevant to all users. That means users must use the site often, have conversations that are meaningful and find information that helps solves problems.

He says Intellipedia did just that and that is what others need to do to be successful.

“You really need to start with yourselves, use the tools and meet your needs and bring others in as you have successes,” he says. “You will grow the capability because you are serving individual needs and they can tell those success stories to each other.”

Voultepsis adds that FedSpace-or any other site for that matter-should think big, start small and scale fast.

“You should adopt before you buy and buy before you create,” he says repeating the Defense Department’s long-time mantra. “Open source should be the choice of first resort.”

Burke adds that most sites are measured by what users can do on the public Internet and new collaboration platforms need to keep up with user’s expectations.

“When you develop functions, it has to be mobile,” Burke says. “In two years if you aren’t mobile, you will be dead.”

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