State Department Building Facebook Style Site

Code-named Statebook, the internal social network will help employees collaborate more efficiently as part of the organization's eDiplomacy efforts.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

April 8, 2010

4 Min Read

The State Department is planning an internal Facebook-like collaboration tool to help its diplomatic employees better network with one another, the leader of its eDiplomacy efforts said Thursday.

The site, code-named Statebook, will allow employees to post profiles of themselves and provide links to other relevant information found within the department's internal network of collaboration and crowdsourcing sites, said the department's eDiplomacy office director Richard Boly.

Boly on a conference call Thursday provided an update on the department's eDiplomacy efforts and unveiled plans for Statebook. He also discussed the evolution of current efforts like Diplopedia, a wiki for diplomatic employees, and the Secretary's Sounding Board, a crowdsourcing site, as well as other initiatives within the organization.

The State Department's Office of eDiplomacy identifies, designs, and manages the department's use of social media to improve the way diplomatic officials communicate and collaborate. The office was formed seven years ago, after 9/11 and terrorist attacks in East Africa, to help the department move from a culture of "need to know, to need to share" in terms of information, Boly said.

In addition to launching Statebook, the department also is looking to spruce up the Secretary's Sounding Board -- a community site where employees can share ideas about how to improve the department -- with plans to implement a proper crowdsourcing platform, he said.

When originally launched a year ago, the site was built hastily on blogging software, Boly said. "It was held together with duct tape and baling wire," he said, lacking "some of the things we can do with a real ideation tool," such as voting on ideas and "a better analysis of ideas." The department is eyeing crowdsourcing platform Spigit to replace the current one the Secretary's Sounding Board runs on, Boly added.

Boly outlined some successful ideas first suggested on the idea-sharing site that then led to actual change at the department as a way to show that eDiplomacy efforts are working.

One scenario he described resulted in the State Department acquiring bicycles that employees can rent when they travel short distances to meetings. The idea started when someone suggested the department install showers near bike racks to encourage bicycle commuting, and snowballed from there, Boly said. "A person with the idea can identify and collaborate with the person who owned the issue and make these things happen," he said.

Another sign of eDiplomacy's usefulness came during the earthquake crisis in Haiti, Boly said. The Diplopedia wiki's traffic spiked, with State Department employees and officials working in real time to keep one another updated on the current situation.

"We were able to immediately put up a landing page on Diplopedia that would give people all the resources to engage within and externally, and anyone could edit it as things were changing by the minute," he said.

While eDiplomacy efforts have undoubtedly been successful, the office is still working to strike a balance between fostering better diplomacy and privacy, Boly acknowledged. The fact that all of the collaboration sites are behind the firewall has made it easier for department employees -- who are traditionally reticent by the nature of their jobs -- to open up.

"Part of the way we get people to collaborate is [to say that] this will only be read by your peers and counterparts," Boly said. "They are less reticent in a risk-adverse environment."

He said with the upcoming Statebook site, the department also is working to balance the needs of more social-networking savvy employees and those who don't currently using those kinds of sites. "The challenge is so many people are already in social media and say, 'Do I really have to create another profile? Why would I want to do this yet again behind the firewall?'" Boly said.

On the other hand, "there are other people who have no profile anywhere -- they say if this isn't dead simple, if I can't create a basic profile pretty simply, I'm not going to do it at all," he said.

The department plans to launch Statebook first with a beta group of 300 or 400 users and then gradually bring all employees on board, Boly added.

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