Tuesday, April 19, 2011
First article in a series discussing the nature, features, success metrics and potential sticking points of the State Department's new internal social networking site, "Corridor."

When Twitter launched in 2006, it would have been impossible--perhaps even irresponsible--to predict its success or the ways in which people would use the platform, shape its language, and through it, change the social media landscape.  Over time, the people who used Twitter helped identify the most valuable features (hashtags, anyone?) and its most relevant fora (conferences and keynotes - right, Steve Martin?).  So it is with a deep sense of humility that I want to write about a new social media site that the State Department's Information Resource Management (IRM) Bureau’s Office of eDiplomacy is quietly moving out of beta and into open enrollment: Corridor.

In this series of blog posts, I'll discuss the nature, features, sucess metrics, and potential obstacles to success of the new site.  This post will talk about it's nature - what the is, how it came to be, how it's built.  Next, I'll talk about its features - what it does.  Then, I'll outline some of the ways that IRM can determine whether Corridor is doing what it's intended to do.  Finally, I'll talk about some of the obstacles to the site's success and how they might be avoided.

The Nature of Corridor

Name: Crowdsourced

Even the name of the site bespeaks its social media pedigree.  More than 700 people answered IRM's call to name their nascant social media site.  In the end, IRM selected "Corridor" to as the name that best imparted the serious professional purpose, core function and dynamic nature of the initiative.  The name, they felt, was evocative of the State Department's long hallways in its main building, a place where foreign and civil servants often engage in frank exchanges of ideas, share interests, and enjmoy serendipitous meetings with colleagues.  State's corridors are often seen as professional but informal settings for discussions--exactly what IRM wants Corridor to be. 

Platform: Open Source

Corridor was built upon a wordpress platform because IRM believed it offered a dual capability – a suite of functions tailored to networking as well as a versatile platform for creating and engaging online communities.  Further, all agencies have been instructed to impliment open source, where possible.  An IRM staffer explained that as a providor of applications for a global audience, IRM often turns to lightweight applications in an attempt to reduce risk, keep costs down, and reduce complexity for system adminstrators as well as end-users. 

Content: Open, but Hidden

Though Corridor combines elements of many extant social media sites, it is far different than other portals (for example, GovLoop) in that it is open only to State Department employees and kept secure behind their firewall.  Further, while it is totally closed to everyone outside the firewall, it is completely open to everyone within it.  Both of those components may prove critical to its success.
Social Media Within and Beyond the Firewall
The State Department already has a significant public social media footprint: multiple twitter feeds in many languages and a Facebook page with more than 70,000 "likes."  Many current and former State Department officials are important personalities within social media: Katie Stanton, Alec Ross, Jared Cohen, and Lovisa Williams spring to mind.  And though they (or any other State employee) can communicate through Facebook or Twitter, they still need a space in which they can communicate and collaborate with others at State but shield the intermediary documents or deliberations from outside scrutiny.  Therein lies the importance of maintaining a social medium within State's firewall.
Moving from Need-to-Know to Need-to-Share
However, State is moving--as the administration has said all agencies should--from a need to know environment to a need to share environment.  Thus the decision that what happens within corridor should be transparent to anyone with access to the site.  Part of the allure of social media, after all, is the resurgence of serendipity, which is all but impossible if everyone self-selects all the content they see.  The success of wikis (Wikipedia, is every bit as accurate as Encyclopedia Brittanica) underscores the value of need-to-share.  When many eyes are on a document, when many minds are on a problem, errors tend to decrease and chances for success rise.  Corridor's openness enhances the value of all the activities that transpire within it.
Next, I'll write about the important features of Corridor, and how they might be used and built out over time:
Taggable directory, like Linked In
Searchable microbblog, like Twitter
Working Groups, like Google
Document Sharing, like Dropbox
Commenting, like Facebook

Success Metrics

How will IRM prove that Corridor is working?  I'll look at some key data that will indicate whether people are seeing value in (and adding value to) the site.

Obstacles to Success
In a final post on Corridor, I'll talk about non-technology barriers to success (i.e. does the culture support this tool), as well as other potential pitfalls (e.g. moving to scale).


Image: composite from Corridor Web site, courtesy of State Department's Information Resource Management Bureau’s Office of eDiplomacy