Friday, October 31, 2008

The Lonely Teleworker and Why Twitter is Better Than Water

“It’s like a prison,” he explained. “I mean, it’s only for a couple months, but I don’t know if I am well-suited for teleworking. I need to be around people.”

With an office renovation forcing him from the office, a colleague recently shared these initial impressions of his teleworking experience.

I’ve been a remote employee for the past 3 years. There have been weeks where I woke up and realized that I had not ventured beyond a half mile from my home for more than 72 hours!

Have I experienced periods of isolation? You bet. I am an “E” on the Myers Briggs personality profile, so I get energy from being around others. Some days feel like walking through the desert with water being nothing more than a mirage. Are those people in the cul de sac?

So how have I overcome the isolation that can accompany teleworking?


I first heard about Twitter through a widely publicized story of an American student who used it to break out of an Egyptian jail. In 140 characters or less, he communicated with followers regarding his arrest and imprisonment…and eventual release.

If you don’t already know, Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to send status updates, or "tweets," from a variety of mobile, web-based in less than 140 characters. It’s like texting back and forth with everyone in your cell phone or instant messaging with hundreds of people at once.

My favorite way to use Twitter on a laptop is through Twhirl, a social software desktop client, based on the Adobe AIR platform.

Like email alerts that ping us through audio or visual cues, Twhirl allows you and me to participate in the ongoing conversation happening on Twitter - on our own terms. It’s just like being in the office. You know the scenario: A group of folks around the corner from your cube gather at the proverbial water cooler, chatting about the election or the game last weekend. You overhear the banter and decide to launch your volley: “Ignore the national polls. You’ve got to pay attention to the state by state contests.”

“Whatever, dude. It's closer than you think."

But Twitter via Twhirl is even BETTER than being in the office. What if that same group asks you a question, but you’re under a tight deadline? It would seem rude to ignore them, right? And it’s awkward to tell your colleagues that you’d like to blow them off right now because work is more important.

Not so with Twitter. People reply or direct message me, but if I’m busy, I get back to them when I have finished my tasks. PLUS, if I want to drive home my point about the election, I send them a quick link that illustrates my perspective…versus sending them an email later in the day, if I remember.

Moreover, you know those folks who come to your cube and talk incessantly, like it’s 4:00 p.m. on Friday…but it’s 10 a.m. on Tuesday? With Twitter’s truncation to 140 characters, people are forced to be concise. In the words of Ronald McDonald: “I’m lovin’ it!”

So where does this put my colleague who is home alone with nowhere to go?

Step 1: Sign up for Twitter.
Step 2: Download Twhirl.

Let it run in the background while you work. When you feel the need for human interaction, send out a message or respond to someone’s tweet. Share the latest article you read or your favorite RSS feed. Join the conversation for as long or as little as you like.

Soon you’ll start feeling a sense of community right there at your table or your TV tray. You’ll start talking to people about @ariherzog, @cheeky_geeky, or @digitalsista (or maybe even @timoreilly or @guykawasaki!) like they’re your cousins or old classmates.

Yes, you might even start scheduling appointments with people you tweet or exchanging ideas that lead to new business or better insights for your project.

So here’s a shout out to all my Tweeps: Thank you for helping me through another day at the otherwise lonely home office - you break the bonds of boredom and build a community beyond cubes!

By the way, follow me. I'm @krazykriz!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

US State Department and Web 2.0 - Take 2

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the State Department’s use of Web 2.0, giving them an overall grade of "A" for their wide array of blogs, wikis, social network sites, podcasts, and a YouTube channel.

Let’s make it an A+.

Between that post and now, I had the chance to engage in a discussion on Web 2.0 with about a dozen personnel at State, mostly affiliated with the Youth Programs Division. The meeting revealed that they are engaged in even more social media endeavors. Below are two more examples:

Second Life: Although not operating their own SL island, State has partnered with the University of Southern California to host a live jazz concert, an awards ceremony for a diplomacy and video game competition (there were more attendees in SL than in person!) and an “Education Without Borders” forum that included participants from 14 countries just last week. What makes me excited about State’s forays into SL and other Web 2.0 applications is the fact that they are engaging an international audience. Recommendations: Don’t be the best kept secret! Share these successes more broadly with other agencies. For instance, why not collaborate with an agency like USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, Peace Corps or USAID to diversify the reach of these efforts. If they have programs that are even tangentially related to yours, explore partnerships that enhance and expand your influence.

ExchangesConnect: Two weeks ago, State launched a global forum called ExchangesConnect to promote collaboration and relationships among youth around the world. As you may know, State coordinates several exchange programs that bring our young global neighbors to the United States. We also send our students to other countries to facilitate cultural understanding. These programs are valuable, but what happens when the students return to their homes from the host country? What if they could continue to communicate with their new friends? That’s the essence of ExchangesConnect. Already at over 300 participants in just a few days, it’s worth watching the development of this community as it has implications beyond State. Recommendations: I remember writing a pen pal in Albuquerque when I lived in Nebraska back in fourth grade (the mid-80s) – I thought it sounded like an exotic place. Could this kind of community be useful to the Department of Education and its efforts to promote their intercultural curriculum efforts? What about collaborating with both ED and the Smithsonian to share ideas about bringing the world to the fingertips of our students - and all US citizens. Imagine having not just one, but 40 pen pals from places like Albania, Afghanistan and Angola using ExchangesConnect. Cool for kids and adults!

In addition to these two Web 2.0 activities, State is planning something big for election night…and I am not sure if I can talk about it yet. Recommendation: Stay attuned to State. They are quietly leading among Federal agencies in leveraging Web 2.0 and social media for the sake of diplomacy and international dialogue.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

State Department - Web 2.0 and the Next Generation of Diplomats

An article in today's Government Executive addresses a serious gap in the State Department's diplomatic corps:

If the State Department does not beef up its workforce, diplomatic programs will suffer and foreign policy will become more militarized, a new report warned.

"Today, significant portions of the nation's foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished," stated the report, released earlier this week by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center. "The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding, but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The 'militarization' of diplomacy exists and is accelerating... . The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests." The report also studied staffing levels at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The report recommended that the State Department hire 4,735 more Foreign Service staffers and other key personnel between fiscal 2010 and 2014. New hires would be involved in core diplomatic efforts such as operating embassies and working with businesses and nongovernmental organizations abroad; engage in public diplomacy; administer economic assistance programs like those at USAID; and manage reconstruction and stabilization projects similar to ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those staffers would fill a 2008 shortfall of 2,400 employees, the authors said, and help State expand its activities while allowing more employees to receive much-needed training.

Based on a brief tour of the Internet, it appears as if State has a great start on using Web 2.0 and social media tools to attract the next generation of diplomatic staff. With this strong showing in the "wired world," State has the foundational resources in place to reach a broader, younger audience. Below is a survey of State's Web 2.0 tools and some practical suggestions for maximizing them:

1. State Department YouTube Channel: Very few government agencies have a presence on YouTube, so let's applaud State for being one of the first into this space. They have video from Secretary Rice, diplomatic efforts around the globe and even a public service announcement on illegal wildlife tracking from Indiana Jones (aka Harrison Ford):

However, one would never know they have this great resource from a review of their agency website. Recommendations: Put a prominent link to State's YouTube Channel somewhere on the home page. Create video content, such as interviews or special interest stories that feature 'legends' among the diplomatic corps. Cross-link to the DipNotes blog and Facebook pages.

2. DipNotes Blog: DipNotes is another great foray into the world of Web 2.0 for State. The blog does a great job of informing the public about important issues related to US foreign policy. It's still a bit Web 1.0 insofar as it "pushes out" information rather than interacting and collaborating with the foreign relations community or other public stakeholders. Also, DipNotes is not geared toward recruitment as it does not include information related to a career at State. Recommendations: Create a forum for public discussion about US foreign policy. Engage citizens in a conversation by asking questions on the blog and encouraging comments. Insert cross-links to the YouTube Channel to further promote awareness of State's web-based, information sharing activities. Keep rotating authors among your diplomatic corps, posting articles that emphasize their day-to-day experiences.

3. State on Facebook: One word: Wow. The State Department has no fewer than eight Facebook pages:

> Official State Department Face Book Page
> Careers
> Careers in Foreign Affairs Group (over 2,000 members!)
> Bureau of Consular Affairs
> Diplomatic Security Group
> Diplomatic Security Jobs (limited activity)
> US Embassy: Japan (packed with great information - maybe the best of the bunch!)
> US Embassy: Lebanon (not much here)
> US Embassy: Uruguay (Spanish)

In looking at the comments and discussion forums, visitors are asking excellent questions and providing information on additional Facebook pages created by embassies throughout the world. Although these sites have varying levels of content, State still gets a solid "A" for reaching out through this medium. Recommendations: Combine the duplicate Careers and Diplomatic Security sites. Make sure there are links back to DipNotes and YouTube channel. Replicate the excellent content found on the Japanese embassy page and the use of country-specific languages a la the Uruguayan embassy site. Be sure to implement the suggestions and new links from your users on your discussion forum. Some of the information was provided over two months ago and updates are not yet present.

4. Democracy Video Challenge: Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman launched the State Department’s Democracy Video Challenge on September 15 at U.N. headquarters. The contest, which asks aspiring filmmakers to complete the phrase “Democracy is …,” seeks to engage the world in sharing ideas about how democratic principles work -- or could work -- around the world. The award: a trip to the United States for gala screenings of their films and meetings with film industry professionals. Recommendations: Post the top videos on State's YouTube channel. Use these videos for a viral marketing campaign on TV and the Internet to drive people to the career Facebook page or blog. Good work having the link to the DipNotes blog on this page and providing a chance to follow DipNotes on Twitter. Also, the explanation of social networks is a nice touch.

5. DipNotes on Twitter: Basically, this Twitter presence points Tweeple to the DipNotes blog as it's updated...which seems to be almost daily. Recommendations: Encourage and promote current Foreign Service Officers to tweet appropriate activities of a daily basis. Consider rotating the people so that an individual gets a good sense of the life of an ambassador.

6. Diplopedia Wiki: From Wikipedia:
billed as the Encyclopedia of the US Department of State, Diplopedia is a wiki running on the State internal Intranet, called "OpenNet". It houses a unique collection of information pertaining to diplomacy, international relations and Department of State tradecraft. The wiki may be used by U.S. foreign affairs agencies domestic and abroad with State intranet access. It is also available to the US Intelligence community and other national-security related organizations using the Intelink-U network as a mirrored, read-only archive. Both sites are rated by the government as Sensitive but Unclassified. The wiki on either network is not open to the public. Recommendations: Keep it private and keep it going. Our national security and diplomatic effectiveness depends on it.

7. State on Flickr: In addition to having several photos on DipNotes, State has an RSS feed to photos on Flickr. Recommendations: Consider doing a mash-up with Google maps and link the photos to specific countries where the individuals are serving. Also, include photos from these places along with links to more information about those countries with an eye toward increasing public awareness about our global neighbors and our relationship with them.

8. State Podcasts: The State Deparment has a series of podcasts, including Daily Press Briefings and Top Stories, messages from Secretary Rice, Iraq: Stories of Success, The Daniel Pearl Murder, Policy Podcast, and information on the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Each of them is available in multiple RSS feed formats. Recommendations: Consider creating a series of podcast interviews with ex-pats and foreign officers living aboard to capture their experience of living beyond our borders.

What suggestions do you have for improving the State Department use of Web 2.0? I will be delivering a briefing to some State staff members next week and could provide feedback in real time. In addition, with State's significant use of several social media, the compilation of lessons learned for them could be useful for other agencies seeking to implement these tools to improve their communication with constituents and recruiting the next generation of public servants.