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Between Facebook and a Phone Book, There's "FedSpace"

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, May 3 2010

At the big federal web managers' summit last week, the General Services Administration announced that this fall would see the launch of FedSpace, a social-networking spot of sorts for government types. Federal Times has a good run-down piece of what people are saying about the prospects of FedSpace:

[O]ne of the biggest potential problems FedSpace could face is a lack of interest.

"It takes buy-in from everyone," [NIH's Andi] Cimino said. "What makes a social networking site valuable is if everyone participates. If people don't see it as something that they'll have time to do, it probably won't go anywhere."

An Environmental Protection Agency employee, who asked not to be named, said he's seen his agency's experiments with wikis and other applications die on the vine because employees don't have enough time to nurture them.

"I'm not entirely sold on all these Web 2.0 applications for government," he said. "There are drum-beaters who are extremely enthused about it, and they're the ones who will set up a wiki. But a lot of things get set up and not used."

Gartner's Andrea DiMaio gets at that same theme when she he suggests that people -- even people who toil away in government -- are just too soaked through with the expectation that collaboration and sharing happen on the social platforms we have now, like Twitter and Facebook, to make a brand-new space like FedSpace attractive or worthwhile. [Reliable sources tell me that Andrea DiMaio is, in fact, a man. I regret the error.]

There's probably something to the argument. But it's worth remembering that FedSpace isn't meant to be the place to catch up with your kindergarten buddies. The idea, from what we've heard so far, is to break down some of the silos of government that make it so someone working inside an office buried inside an agency often finds him or herself re-inventing the wheel. Can something like FedSpace help a government worker find an expert at an agency down the road (or even down the hallway) who can quickly help him or her get up to speed on a topic, find the most salient reports, and make use of the wisdom buried within government that, hey, is being paid for anyway? 'Facebook for Feds' is one easy way of thinking about FedSpace, sure. But it seems more accurate, at this point, to think of FedSpace like the internal networks that many businesses and other institutions use to good and even great effect. "FedSpace" doesn't have to be beloved by government types in order for it to be a success. It just has to prove itself occasionally useful.