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Military Software Developers Get Enhanced Social Network

Social media extension are added to the Forge.mil software collaboration tools to boost collaboration outside project boundaries.

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Military software developers are getting a social network that the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) hopes will make them more productive and boost code sharing and reuse.

As we reported earlier this week, DISA is basing the Forge.mil Community on Acquia's version of Drupal Commons, a social networking extension of the open source Drupal Web content management platform.

Forge.mil is a secure website for the military and its software contractors that is based on the same open source software as SourceForge, including the SVN source code versioning system and related CollabNet tools. DISA actually supports two versions, SoftwareForge, which has about 9,000 users, and ProjectForge, a version for projects that require their own private collaboration space. DISA functions as a network and cloud services provider to the branches and departments of the military, so it charges for ProjectForge while making SoftwareForge freely available to authorized users.

The existing Forge.mil tools were effective for collaboration between members of individual projects, but the Forge.mil Community will help promote collaboration on a larger scale, Forge.mil Project Manager Dan Gahafer said in a briefing Wednesday. "This gives us a community layer above what SoftwareForge provides, with content management, information sharing, and the ability to organize around non-project lines."

The base offerings themselves "save tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, today and will ultimately save millions of dollars," Gahafer said. It's difficult to quantify how the benefits play out in terms of code that is reused and adapted for other projects, rather than created from scratch, but DISA believes the program has been very successful, he said.

The Forge.mil Community adds the ability to form "communities of interest" among people who may not necessarily be working on the same software development project but still might be addressing some of the same problems. For example, there are multiple projects associated with different services that are creating software for military healthcare management or new systems for command and control. Although there was nothing stopping them from getting access to each other's Forge.mil projects and software repositories previously, the new overarching community gives them a better chance of finding out about each other's work and perhaps sharing software libraries or components, Gahafer said.

In addition to discussion groups, the collaboration environment features member profile pages, activity streams, and other accoutrements of a social network. Gahafer said the community attracted about 10,000 members in a beta test that started in March, and the system is now live. That's actually somewhat bigger than the underlying SoftwareForge community, he said, possibly because defense contractors and other constituencies who don't necessarily use the Forge.mil software versioning tools nevertheless want access to the software development communities of interest.

By choosing a social environment based on Drupal, DISA was able to customize the open source software to achieve a seamless integration between the Forge.mil community and the software collaboration environment based on SourceForge. "I don't think we could have gotten any other product as integrated as we have" with the same level of time and effort, Gahafer said.

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