Agencies look inward for Web 2.0

In-house tools are often a safer option

Agencies that seek social-networking capabilities are not always able to use public services such as Facebook and Twitter. When they can't, a growing collection of open-source tools is making it easier for them to create their own systems.

NASA's Spacebook is one of the most visible examples. Linda Cureton, chief information officer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said she led the effort to create the tool because Facebook offered a good model but was too casual and not secure enough for her facility's needs.

Commercial software still has a place in government, but open-source tools are making it possible to quickly and cheaply develop custom solutions, Cureton said.

“Using this open-source approach, we were able to easily work through some of the barriers and concerns that people had,” she said. “The development effort was minimal, and it would have been more difficult to customize a [commercial] solution.”

Customizing commercial products and adopting open-source applications are quick and effective ways to deliver simple tools behind an organization’s firewall, said Steve Heidt, a vice president at EDS.

A few years ago, EDS worked with Apple to create a custom system for the Navy to share training and informational podcasts, he said. Using a popular public tool such as iTunes would have made the information accessible to people not authorized to have it. But the Navy used iTunes as a model.

“It was basically taking Apple’s software and delivery model and modifying it to be resident inside the Navy Marine Corps Intranet network so that it covers that security issue and information management requirements,” Heidt said.

Authentication is another reason many government agencies want to bring Web 2.0 tools in-house, said Susie Adams, Microsoft Federal's chief technology officer.

It is too easy to create a phony name on many sites, she said, citing the example of the presidential election when a number of false Hillary Clintons posted updates to Twitter.

However, agencies can easily connect their authentication tools with common social-networking technologies, such as blogs and wikis, Adams said.

NASA’s Spacebook demonstrates how easily and inexpensively agencies can develop an in-house Web 2.0 tool, said Brian Gentile, chief executive officer of JasperSoft, a provider of open-source software.

“Many of the technologies that are needed to build a collaborative, nicely oriented site are readily available, and some are free,” Gentile said. “The cost of pulling together a site is a fraction of what it was even five years ago, and the functionality is, of course, much better.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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