The winds of change are blowing in the government marketplace, and nowhere is that change more felt than in the realm of web-based communications. For the latest in Government 2.0 trends, we recently sat down with Andrea Baker, director of technology and self-described “social web evangelist,” who works with Navstar, a Falls, Church, Va.-based provider of IT services for the government and private sectors. Here Baker shares the latest in social media trends and how organizations can use dynamic web tools in their organizations and on behalf of their government clients.
Could you tell us what a social web evangelist does?
Andrea Baker: I borrowed the term “evangelist” after I met Anil Dash, a Vice President of Six Apart, a social blogging software platform, last fall. He called himself an evangelist on his business card. He inspired me with what he was doing in bringing better blogging software to the world. I look to use the phrase “social web evangelist” to help the user experience with new tools, how to use the tools and improve productivity.
What are your thoughts on the term Web 2.0?
Andrea Baker: I don’t like the term Web 2.0. It puts us in an ordered state and I don’t think that the web is very orderly. There is always a new tool, a new technology coming out. If we say Web 2.0 today, what is it next week? Hopefully, something better. I like to put the web in 3 different stages: There was the web as we knew it prior to this fusion of the user-oriented web and then the next phase should be the semantic web. Right now we’re still in the user-interactive web space.
What’s your role with Navstar?
Andrea Baker: I’ve been with Navstar for two years now and I am the director of technology. I help not only the intelligence community, but also Navstar embrace social web tools as part of their business process and bringing that expertise to other areas in federal government. I am helping to build the knowledge of enterprise collaboration inside the company as well.
How do you keep up with the pulse of new technologies?
Andrea Baker: I definitely have to keep reading. There are several tricks for how I try to keep up with what’s going on. One way is using Twitter, a microblogging software platform that I’ve embraced and have been using a little more than a year. When a new social web tool pops up on the radar, usually the other leading edge technologists grab on to it and tell others about it through Twitter. Another way is that I have my Google Alerts set up to notify me. Additionally I utilize RSS feeds to subscribe to certain technology blogs. Usually another technologist gets a tip off about something and they then share their experience or give a link to a beta platform. It also helps to be involved in the Washington area technology scene. We have a lot of good technologists in the area developing their own social web tools.
Can you share some possible future trends in the social web space of interest to the government contracting community?
Andrea Baker: In the intelligence community, we want to use more widgets and mash-ups. The rest of the world is already embracing these technologies. When a technology emerges, someone else comes along and creates a symbiotic technology that works with it. However, we don’t yet have these connective widgets inside the federal government since we’re just still getting used to platforms such as wikis and blogs. So, we’re looking at real life examples and checking how we can bring those into the government.
I’ve seen widgets (e.g., AdaptiveBlue) — should the govt make their own widgets?
Andrea Baker: Yes and no. Yes, we should create our own, if possible, because we have certain tools and software applications that are not available to commercial companies. However, there are many technologies out there that we can borrow from and adapt. AdaptiveBlue is a good example and I have that on my personal blog. It hyperlinks a specific word or term, and the link takes you to more information — so simple and yet so complex but we don’t yet have that inside the government. If we were to have something like AdaptiveBlue on, say, the word “China” on Intellipedia, we would be able to find out a whole lot more just by clicking on that word.
Any other social media trends for executives with government clients to keep on their radar?
Andrea Baker: I mentioned Twitter before. One of the things I like that we’re testing at Navstar is a tool called Yammer, a TechCrunch 50 award winner. The Yammer tool is a take-off of what Twitter is for the rest of the world as massive-social messaging software. This tool is used for a group and you attach it to your email domain. At Navstar we are using Yammer to communicate internally throughout the rest of the dispersed Navstar family. For the federal government we would like to use a tool like Yammer or Twitter to talk to each other, share links. It’s something we’re looking into and whether to bring a tool like this inside the various networks.
What’s the next step in blog evolution?
Andrea Baker: I’d like to see an evolution of blogs as the next step for us. We use WordPress blogs as our platform in the federal government. Everybody is blogging and sharing information, which is great. Now we want to take it to the next level with smarter blogs. We want to bring in more plug-ins and other complimentary technologies to increase the value of our blog posts. It would also make the information easier to find. We’re always looking for better technologies to increase the findability of information that we’ve already been creating.
Any final thoughts?
Andrea Baker: We need to engage with potential customers and other colleagues and find the way they’re communicating and join into the conversation. You should talk about your brand (company or organization) and listen for people talking about you. We’ve already mentioned Twitter, I use that daily to be a part of the world’s conversation. I also believe corporations and executives should be blogging on their corporate websites, to let us know what they’re about, in order to reach out to potential and existing customers.
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