I’m on my way back to the San Francisco Bay Area from my trip to our nation’s capital for both the ‘Introduction to Forge.mil’ webinar, as well as Government 2.0 Camp, a ‘barcamp-style’ ‘unconference’ focusing on collaboration and social media in the government sector. Side note – WiFi on Virgin America is completely awesome! Of course, the temptation is to always work instead of sleeping, but I know I’ve been more productive in the travel time on this trip than ever before!
So, first, let’s cover the webinar – not only was I in town to speak during the event with Rob Vietmeyer (DISA’s Forge.mil Project Director), but it was also a chance to physically meet other members of the DISA team and discuss things we’ll need to do as we move toward the official launch of Forge.mil in mid-April. I’m happy to say that the webinar went off very smoothly (with the possible exception of trying to find a working VOIP-enabled headset to use on one of the computers at the DISA facility). The slides had come together nicely through several iterations, and the presentation handoff between myself and Rob went smoothly. There were a TON of good questions after the webinar, including everything from how to get started, to licensing and acquisition policy thoughts. Best of all, I didn’t feel like I tripped over my tongue too much. The recording isn’t quite ready to put up yet – but we do have slides available. We were very pleased to have 277 registrants and 162 attendees, which gave us a 58% attendance rate (I’m told anything over 50% is excellent).
The afternoon after the webinar was supposed to be a chance to work with Rob and his team. I did meet several team members, but unfortunately, Rob was called away to give a review/briefing to senior DISA leadership about the project progress. The good news about this was that the review went extremely well, and General Pollett (DISA Director) was very excited, and has asked for additional demos at future reviews!
After the webinar, I was prepared to just ‘relax, listen and learn’ at the Government 2.0 Camp conference the next day. Oh, how little did I know. Not having ever been part of a ‘barcamp’ conference, I was a bit skeptical of the ‘planned on the fly’ agenda concept. The first morning started with the entire auditorium at the Duke Ellington School for The Arts introducing themselves and being given 3 words to describe their interests, or 10 words to propose a session. I used ‘developer, collaboration, community’ as my three tags and didn’t propose any sessions.
My colleague Kevin Hourihane and I then decided to attend the morning session on ‘A-Space‘ (best described as ‘Facebook for Spies’). It was an interesting discussion, but at the end of the Q & A period, Gunnar Hellekson from Red Hat asked the presenter if the development system for A-Space would eventually be tied to Forge.mil. Needless to say, that caught our attention, and the ensuing 15 minute conversation brought a lot of questions about our system. In true barcamp fashion, someone asked if we were going to present on Forge.mil. Since I had my copy of the webinar slides, I agreed, and set up a time on day 2 to talk about it.
Despite the fact my session was up against the White House media team’s talk (including Macon Phillips), there were about 10 folks who showed up to hear me give a condensed version of the webinar talk. I loved that this was very interactive (the webinar format makes it a little more difficult to interact, since you are doing it strictly via text chat), and I got several really good questions, especially around the acquisition process for software, and how adding government contractors into the mix of SoftwareForge.mil could prove cumbersome, especially in light of time and materials contracts that most software projects use. One contractor mentioned that his company would be thrilled to have more time on a contract to do more testing, or do a more complete engineering job (assuming they found a component on software.forge.mil to re-use for part of their project). However, that was not universally accepted by the other contractors in the room. This cultural issue is one that is going to have to be solved for effective re-use within major projects that the DoD bids out to contractors. The good news is that I came away from the session much more aware of some of the hurdles we’ll face in building out the community with DoD contractors in the mix.
There were several interesting sessions I took part in during the conference, and I’d like to highlight two:
- What’s the Big Deal?
- Building an Open Source/Federal collaboration (i.e. – ‘Forge.gov’)
The first one dealt with how governments could deal with outward-facing social media tools, and what policies they should have in place to deal with ‘bad’ content. I liked this session because it was a group of community managers (even if some didn’t have the title), who realized that allowing social media in government (and even corporate) spaces is not a big deal if you have some sane procedures in place to deal with the occasional unprofessional comment/content. This echos what I’ve posted about in the past – you have to trust your interview process to hire people who are professionals that know how to properly utilize social media tools.
The second session above took place when the ‘techies’ got together to talk about Open Source Community and Federal collaboration, and these were extremely interesting, and quite informative. In a nutshell, the techies in the room wanted to know when (or if) a ‘Forge.gov’ site could be stood up to allow collaboration between the Federal (non-DoD) space and the greater Open Source world. I know that there are some discussions about this very thing going on between several companies (can’t say more just yet), so I hope it comes to fruition. The main thing I cautioned the people assembled about was understanding that culture would have to shift to get the Federal IT folks (especially project managers) to embrace such an effort, especially around things like acquisition policy and information assurance (IA).
One final technical note on the conference – this was the first event I’ve been to in the ‘Twitter Age’. There was a lot of live blogging going on, but far and away Twitter was the primary means of putting out information, links, thoughts & notes on the proceedings. Since Twitter ‘streams’ are preserved after an event is over, and time stamped, it makes it very easy to go back and view what happened during the event. Here are some ‘streams’ you can check out if you are interested:
All in all, it was a very successful trip – now, if I could just get Virgin America to fly everywhere else I might need to travel, life would be perfect…