Friday, May 30, 2008

Evading the .mil Ban on Web 2.0

The Army has quietly figured out a work-around to the Defense Department ban on visiting social media sites--blogs, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook and the like--from official computer networks. Unlike the Air Force and Navy, which remain blocked off from the most popular and arguably useful parts of the Internet, the Army simply has built replicas behind its own firewalls.

The ever-amazing David Axe, military reporter extraordinaire, reveals the Army's inventiveness in evading what he terms the military's "civil war" over Internet use in the first of a three-part series at the new Washington Independent online news site.

In January, the Army's Myspace/Facebook clone went live, mimicking the civilian sites' status updates, messaging and ability to add friends, in the Army's case "members I value," according to Axe. It's apparently a boon to the frequently deployed as they try to keep up with colleagues. Blogging capability came online in April.

The .mil Internet ban hasn't only affected uniformed service members. It also has hobbled researchers and civilian managers and employees attempting to take advantage of Web collaboration tools. At the recent Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds conference in Washington, Defense employees explained that to experiment with synthetic online worlds, they had to set up off-network computer farms to connect to Second Life and the like. The Air Force training command had to create a .edu domain to get around the proscription in order to prepare to create its virtual airbase.

As Axe reports, the Army's social networking efforts began with a small group of young officers who created online forums to instantly and directly share tips and lessons in the 1990s. The Army officially OK'd the forums in 2002 and the MySpace clone, in turn, grew out of them. The overall effort is housed at the Center for Company-Level Leaders at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Photo credit: Tetra Rugged Computers

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