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DoD ‘Wiki’ Increases Technical Collaboration

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2010 – Scientists traditionally share information by publishing their completed research studies in academic journals. But the pace and nature of technological change renders that process much too slow.

That’s why, in 2008, the Defense Technical Information Center launched a scientific and technical “wiki” Web site to increase real-time exchanges between experts across the Defense Department. Access to the wiki also is granted to scientists working in related government agencies and contracting firms. There now are more than 11,000 monthly users.

"DoD Techipedia is a site that we created to provide a forum for DoD scientists, engineers, policy makers as well as contractors, to have a more open, collaborative environment to discuss things as they [are] developing,” R. Paul Ryan, administrator of DTIC, explained during a Jan. 28 interview on The Pentagon Channel podcast, “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military.”

The Techipedia works like the well-known Wikipedia, Ryan said.

“Somebody has a topic out there that is of interest to them,” he said. They write up a short blurb [or] a description of that, and then the people come in and the discussion grows from there.”

Hot topics include sensors, traumatic brain injury, biometrics, advanced materials and energy reduction strategies. “You name the subject and it’s eligible to become part of Techipedia,” Ryan said.

The site’s content includes other features of mutual benefit to the department and its contractors, he said. One feature highlights member organizations, another aims to find solutions to tough problems.

For example, Ryan said, defense leaders may use Techipedia to throw out a challenge and ask, “What can you do for us? What can you do to help us?”

Out of some 100 ideas submitted in the past year, four have resulted in awarded contracts, with two more in the works.

Ryan expects the number of users and the features offered on Techipedia to grow. “We've got this pool of information,” he said, “We're looking to take next steps.”

One challenge is to maintain the free flow of information while enforcing proper security. Protection is provided by parsing data into several levels based on sensitivities and also by vetting users before granting access.

So far, Ryan has been pleased with the “gardening” done by users – that’s wiki talk, for the self-regulating style of Web communities. In this case, he says, users are doing a good job of cultivating reliable information.

DoD Techipedia has received recognition from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for its transparency and also has been recognized for outstanding information technology achievement by Government Computer News.

(Christen N. McCluney works for the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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Related Sites:
DoD Techipedia
Defense Technical Information Center
Armed with Science Podcast #52
Armed with Science blog
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