Award-winning Air Force site evolves at rapid clip

The images on the main page of the Air Force Link Web site (www.af.mil) don't sit still for long a new picture pops up every three minutes. This stands as an apt metaphor for Air Force Link as a whole which has evolved continuously since its World Wide Web debut in March 1995.

Earlier this month Air Force Link won the prestigious Gold Quill Award for Excellence in Communications from the International Association of Business Communicators. Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers Air Force public affairs director viewed this award as a strong endorsement of the Web site.

"Winning the Gold Quill firmly establishes us as a premier leader in business and corporate communications " Sconyers said.

Air Force Link has garnered a large audience with the majority of users coming from outside the military according to Capt. Terry Bowman the chief of technology integration in the Air Force's Public Affairs Office who has guided development of the site from before its launch. The site receives about 3 million hits a week which Bowman equates to on-line visits from about 620 000 people in 130 countries. "Only about 15 percent of them are from military sites the rest are from commercial domains " Bowman said.

News events involving the Air Force - such as the rollout of the F-22 fighter - drive public interest in the site Bowman said. News organizations such as CNN or USA Today link their pages directly to Air Force Link to provide their users with access to hot stories such as the disappearance of an A-10 aircraft on a training mission in the Southwest last month. This appetite for news also is reflected in the number of people who have signed up for a daily Listserv news feed via the site - around 40 000 and growing he said.

`The Customer Is King'

Small- to medium-size news organizations tap Air Force Link for photos and images (www.af.mil/photos) Bowman said. Although the Images section does offer GIF "thumbnail" photos and higher-resolution JPEGs Bowman said that in response to requests from these new organizations Air Force Link soon will offer even better JPEGs.

"The customer is king here " Bowman said. "We get about 1 500 e-mails a week. We read them all and we answer them all."

The Air Force Link home page presents a clean and uncluttered look to the Web world: one large photo and the Air Force Link banner surrounded by push-button icons that allow the user to drill down into broad areas including News Careers Sites Spotlight and the Air Force 50th Anniversary.

While not offering the immediacy of the News button the last area provides users with an on-line tour of Air Force history including a marvelous photo gallery of aircraft ranging from a World War I Sopwith Camel to a WW II P-38 Lightning and a Vietnam-era F-105 "Thud."

Users can access this history and the photo gallery by clicking on the 50th Anniversary logo which pops up a stylized drawing of an Air Force Base (www.af.mil/50th/). Clicking on the icon of a presidential 747 on the runway brings up the photo file.

While this part of Air Force Link looks to the past Bowman has his eyes on the future and the continued evolution of the site. Within the next month he promised that the site will add a new feature to its news coverage: Real Audio broadcasts of the semi-weekly (more if events warrant it) Pentagon press briefing conducted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

When asked why Defense Link the anchor Pentagon Web site did not carry this feed Bowman explained the various PA-managed Web organizations within the Pentagon had decided to share responsibilities. "We're putting in Real Audio so why should [OSDPA] have to spend the money too?" he said. Full search capability for information contained on any of 500-plus Air Force sites indexed under Web Link is another coming attraction Bowman said.

Because the Air Force believes so much in the communication power of the Web Bowman this summer will leave the Pentagon to begin a three-year doctorate program in mass communications at the University of Maryland where he plans to specialize in the Web and other Internet technologies.

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