Web 2.0 and social media are messy. Tweets are rarely grammatically correct. Blog posts are neither as polished nor as tight as an edited article in a newspaper or magazine that went through multiple drafts. The sheer volume of traffic and content makes the sort of editorial oversight that print media came to expect before the advent of online content impossible. The issue of control is particularly important here. A publisher has complete control over what goes into print. Even letters to the editor and op-ed articles are screened, selected and often edited so that what their readership sees is known, consistent and approved prior to publication.

Social media is the opposite of control. Anyone with internet access can have a voice. It is chaos. But it is not without its shape and form. Already, the innumerable voices on the web have mostly coalesced into a sort of white background noise. It is there, and a lot of it is inane. But even search engines are getting better at sorting through it for real and meaningful content. And ultimately, the combination of reputation, prestige and what one is interested in helps groups of participants coalesce and interact.

This blog is what it is because of those who comment, who hold everyone and everything on the blog to a higher standard, call people out when writing gets sloppy and will under no circumstances tolerate sloppy reasoning or sloppy thinking. It is also a place where those who comment bring enormous expertise to the table and enrich the discussion. It is in a very real sense a forum – a forum that the founders of this Institute may not have been able to conceive of but would probably be pretty impressed with.

And that’s the thing about Web 2.0 and social media. For the first hundred and twenty years or so of the Institute, ‘forum’ meant a print periodical. Reading and contributing to Proceedings was the limit of communication technology in terms of intellectual interaction for a large, dispersed group. But the mission of the Institute is to provide a forum and to disseminate and advance knowledge — not publish a magazine.

The Mission of the Institute is to provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense. [emphasis added]

This isn’t to knock Proceedings and it should continue to be the flagship publication of the Institute. It has earned its reputation. But a monthly periodical isn’t going to cut it as a forum in the 21st century, particularly for the very individuals that are supposed to be at the heart of the Institute’s ‘tribe’ — active, serving young Naval, Marine and Coast Guard officers and enlisted. We’re going to have to do much better and make some tough choices if we hope to live up to the spirit of the mission statement we have all so ardently defended.

The last decade has seen the most phenomenal explosion of means of interactivity. For an institution that was the product of interaction and founded explicitly to provide a forum, this should be not a time of crisis or decay but a time of enormous excitement and possibility. For the first time in the history of the Institute, the means available to fulfill the mission of providing a forum have not just grown; they have exploded.

Society and industry are still grappling with what, if anything, phenomena like Twitter might actually be useful for. This is the dawn of a new era, not one in its maturity. It should be a time of experimentation (and experimentation entails failures – the trick is designing the experiment to teach you something while not over-committing resources to it until it has proven viable) to understand which elements of this explosion might have applicability and add value to our ongoing endeavor to live up to the mission set out before us. But the success of this blog should be seen as a proof of concept and as an example of what is possible.

The Institute has limited resources, and the sacrifices employees of the Institute have made are a testament to that. But efforts to build on the success of this blog warrant more priority, focus and resources. More young, information technology and social media expertise is required to formulate experiments, identify promising avenues and push efforts forward. This will not be free (though, like the blog, much can be achieved once the right structures and oversight are in place), and will require sacrifices, compromises and some reallocation of resources.

But we are behind the curve and our young active duty membership deserves and demands better.

Posted by nhughes in Cyber, Policy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    This is article has a number of very insight. Over the course of the last couple of months, I have heard some discussion of the risk to USNI’s reputation when engaging “new media.” There seems to be a sense that with looser editorial standards the reputation of the institution might be at risk. I take a slightly different view of this situation, and I think a tiered approach is the direction that many media related organizations are following, and this would dovetail nicely with the current relationship between Proceedings and the books published by the NIP.

    Blogging and forum type online environments should continue to be aggressively pursued by USNI because they naturally lower the barriers to entry inherent (and rightfully so) at the Proceedings and NIP level. An additional advantage of the less tightly controlled online environment is that it provides some level of timely feedback to the “authors” of both the original posting as well as the comments that follow. Ideas can be quickly vetted against a range of “experts,” and the feedback seems to be quicker than the more rigorous editorial and letter writing mode embodied by Proceedings.

    If the goal of USNI is to extend the organizations relevance to a younger generation of contributors, then the broad ideas outlined above will probably be required to achieve that objective. If the goal of USNI is to remain relevant to the retiree and senior officer community, then the current model is wildly successful.


  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Speaking of loose editorial standards, I wish the blog comments had an editing option.

    The first sentence should read:

    “This is article has a number of very [good] insight[s].

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Second the motion, Ben (boy do I ever).

    There is also a place for pointing out the fundamentals, the hard bought lessons of the past, and pouring a bit of cold water on the overheated enthusiasm (fad) of the day.

    The equations the universe run on are cold, cold, indeed.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    “We are behind the curve…” I concur, in part. Case in point: Today 26MAY, several appointments and moves in the senior FOGO ranks have been announced. This is already in discussion at CDR Salamander’s, at 1245EDT. If we want to be “engaged,” that means links and discussions should have already been up on the USNI Facebook pages and right here on the blog. Mixing current and long-view pieces can be utterly time-consuming, yet it provides the necessary variety of pieces that now drive how we inform ourselves. But we need to also consider how “all in” we intend to be. Personally, I’m ambivalent about Twitter, but it at least will get someone to pull out their iPad, smartphone or click to look at whatever in-depth piece the Institute wants people to go to.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    I disagree with one point “Society and industry are still grappling with what, if anything, phenomena like Twitter might actually be useful for.” Society, or at least those who use social media (SM) know what it is good for. Talk to Galrhan; where does he get a lot of his best news from — Twitter. Personally, I have many of my best conversations on Facebook as well as use Twitter for news. Just the other morning, I posted a link to a Magnesium based steam engine and AW1 Tim took it and did a blog post based on how it could apply to Subs.

    The interaction and the discourse generated by SM is the hallmark of information technology that have evolved to fit a niche that becomes more relevant each year. Previous forms of information technology (books, magazines and TV) are increasingly in a supporting role to SM. The struggle, if there is one, is in how to grab one’s attention and have them engage on the topic provided.

    SM removes, for the most part, the tyranny of distance. Where as those who founded the Institute had to gather to discuss topics of interest, and then disseminate their conversations by periodical, today we only have to access the USNI website.

  • BJ Armstrong

    As I read naval related articles in a great online journal like Small Wars Journal (both Navy and Marine Corps), I can’t help but wonder what a “Papers of the US Naval Institute” online journal would look like. (The name comes from the historic original title of Proceedings which was “The Papers and Proceedings of the US Naval Institute).

    As someone who has published in Proceedings, Naval History, this blog, Information Dissemination, CDRSalamander, and Small Wars Journal (several times over) I know that it would be high on my list as a place to submit content and share ideas. I also think that attempts to get junior officers to write for a journal with less perceived pressure than those that are peer-reviewed or that work through an editorial board may be easier.