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March 17, 2007

Wikis and Blogs: Signs of Life in the Forest Service

Yesterday I got an email from Forest Service video producer Steve Dunsky who recently initiated a blog to help agency employees at all levels better understand the importance and practicality of wikis and blogs. He indicated that he has been working wiith Public Affairs specialists, IT specialists, and others in the Forest Service and sees signs of an 'awakening' re: blogs and wikis.

Note: Unfortunately, most FS stuff is on the agency's Intranet, therefore not viewable by most agency constituents. Although there are advantages to Intranet for a few things, I believe that most everything ought to be done in the sunshine of the internet. Just think, for example, of a spin-off benefit of no more (or very few) Freedom of Information Act requests. Webpages could suggest, simply, that people search for what they want on the internet.
The email noted a couple of other blogs of interest. It seems that Forest Servcie Public Affairs folks are increasingly attuned to the importance of these new tools. Here are my thoughts as to how the Forest Service or any other agency might benefit from them:

First, to cut down on the current blizzard of emails (and attachments) blogs would be used by staff groups and professionals clustered in 'communities of practice' to announce upcoming events, to share salient new information, and to share progress on ongoing projects.

This would also cut down on too-frequent and too-often-mindless conference calls. The wiki/blog culture of doing work in real time with continuous feedback and update possibilities, would also enrich in-person meetings and eliminate some of the announcement/one-way-communication feeds of 'new' by hierarchical authority that plagues most conferences.

Second, wikis could be used universally for 'knowledge bases', that would be referenced and to some extent vetted in the blogs. My desire is that wikis be constructed with 'comment' features common to blogs, so that some vetting would be internal to the wikis. The beauty of these features is that comments can be either about posted subject matter or about earlier comments. The idea is that comments build on comments as well as on 'posted' materials. There is an aspect of community that attends to well-used blogs, and no doubt wikis too, although I too have much to learn in the wiki arena.

Both blogs and wikis would also be highlighted on, and compliment more-traditional websites that would provide 'first looks' and site-map navigational and other access to professional communities of practice, staff groups, and organization writ larger.

To gain a perspective as to the emergent popularity and utility of both wikis and blogs, here is a link to a special feature on wikis and blogs in the current issue of Business Week Online, 3/17/07.

UPDATE 3/21:

To better understand the reluctance to wander into wiki/blog space, and necessary precautions to think through before jumping in, consider this:

Most Business Tech Pros Wary About Web 2.0 Tools In Business
By J. Nicholas Hoover

For all the mind-numbing buzz about Web. 2.0, most business collaboration and information sharing remains mired in endless e-mail strings and scheduled conference calls. More than half of business technology pros surveyed by InformationWeek are either skeptical about tools such as blogs, wikis, and online social networks, or they're willing but wary of adopting them. What gives? …

Despite the risks and problems, a solid minority of the 250 business technology pros surveyed by InformationWeek are behind this IT strategy push that has come to be known as Enterprise 2.0 (even if the overplayed 2.0 terminology makes some people wince). Nearly a third, 32%, describe their Web 2.0 strategies as fully engaged, our survey finds.

Reticent companies ignore the movement at the peril of their competitiveness. Within a few years, rich, collaborative software platforms that include a slate of technologies like wikis, blogs, integrated search, and unified communications will be the norm. Employees will expect to work that way, and it'll be up to IT to solve the still significant problems and deliver. …

Security isn't the only barrier to Enterprise 2.0; it's just the most glaring problem IT will have to solve….

[H]ere's a sobering statistic for Enterprise 2.0 true believers: For eight of the 13 tools we asked about, at least 20% of companies say they've made the tools available but they're hardly used. … [Steve Ellis, executive VP of Wells Fargo's wholesale solutions group of Wells Fargo] says the tools will matter and get adopted only if they're delivering information people need. …

Many of these tools are starting to converge, giving employees more control over how they want to see and share their knowledge. … Integrating these new technologies with legacy systems is another challenge ….

But is it all worth the effort? Collaboration technologies are notorious for their "soft ROI." At Wells Fargo, they're not bothering to cook up a dollar value for each collaboration app. "I can just go out and tell our boss I know we'll be better off," Ellis says.

Yet Ellis and his team must have a case for how it will make the bank's customers better off. Wells Fargo is only now experimenting with voice over IP, and Danny Peltz, executive VP of the company's Wholesale Internet and Treasury Solutions group, says he's not yet convinced of the value of all the pieces of unified communications and presence awareness. "Is it going to make me build faster? Is it going to make me perform better and service my customers better?" he asks. "Those are the things I'm trying to figure out."

They're the questions a lot of IT pros are asking. They know well enough not to chase technology just because it's got the buzz of a Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 label. But they also know better than to ignore an opportunity from which their competitors might be gaining an edge.

Finally, this from Steve Dunsky, Using Social Media: A place to discuss web tools for collaboration and communication in the Forest Service:
A book called Wikinomics explores the ways in which social media tools are being used in business and other enterprises. You can watch a podcast of co-author Dan Tapscott interviewed by SpikeSource CEO Kim Polese. Some of his ideas from the book are summarized in a Web 2.o white paper.
If nothing more, take Steve's advice and watch (or listen to) the podcast, it is well-worth an hour of your time to see/hear what the new world of collaboration is really about.

Posted by Dave on March 17, 2007 at 09:53 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: Steven Dunsky

Hi Dave,
I'm the one that you sent you the message. I think your comments about the used of blogs & wikis are right on.
Some people are concerned that employees will "waste" time with them, but we are currently wasting lots of time reading and responding to pointless emails.
I think the business case for these tools is very high. A great place to start would be the mess in Albuquerque.

Steven Dunsky | Mar 18, 2007 6:38:08 PM

Posted by: Dave Iverson

Thanks Steve,

I will likely amend the post today to better reflect your message. I was at home, and stranded because I forgot how to access my gov. email and besides I try not to work on this stuff on weekend.

I agree, BTW, re: the "mess in Albuquerque" and am trying to find (make)time to write a post on Walter Reed, A76 in the FS, and the M in Albuquerque.

Dave Iverson | Mar 19, 2007 8:54:55 AM

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