In a world where Twitter matters
and Facebook rules, choosing which other online
social networks to join is an important and often confusing decision.
Sometimes the universality and interconnectedness of one needs to be
supplemented with the exclusivity and privacy of another, and with new social
networks popping up on the daily, it can be hard to know which choice is best.
That's why we here at OhMyGov! seek to aid you in the decision process: we've
joined, perused and ranked the top government social networking sites because,
quite frankly, we want (and expect) only the best for our readers.
6) The Federal Contractor Network.
It's hard to say too much about this network, considering the peeving reality
that every link leads you to a "sign in or sign up" page. Judging by
"the Lobby," the site's cutely named homepage, it could very well be
a useful network to join...if you're a government contractor. Much of their
current set-up is aimed towards reducing any doubt of their Twitter adeptness, including
invitations for follows, a feed of the #TFCN trending topic, and a video on how
to link your TFCN and Twitter accounts. In fact, they seem to be into linking
all sorts of accounts, as the link-ridden bar on the bottom of the page would
This social network is built on
the Ning platform -- one of about 1 million other niche social networks out there including
Govloop and Exchanges Connect -- and as such boasts Ning's boilerplate site organization and features.
Such features include user-blogs, discussion boards, job and event boards
(example: a weekend
speedreading class), a forum, and simplified user profiles. In an effort to
pull away from the Ning umbrella, they've also customized the platform to hold
an impressive flash-based, business directory of government contractors that is
far easier to browse than the Central
Contractor Registry CCR.
To date, the social network hosts
over 14,000 government contractors that must be confirmed as legit before
joining. But for a social network of this size, the boards and blogs are
mysteriously quiet, even with the twitter feeds streaming into the site.
Conspicuously absent from the site -- the addition of which would make it a hit
among the target demographic -- is a matching service like that run by Gov Partners which pairs
contracting firms together according to need or job. A step into heaven for the
contracting world would be a way to unite would-be proposal collaborators and a
place for primes to recruit subcontractors.
5) Our Border. Although the name
seems to conjure up images of minute men patrolling the Mexican border in SUVs
loaded with gun racks, this government social network is actually run by the
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. The aim of the site is a bit unclear
at a glance, but explained as follows on the site:
"Our Border is a groundbreaking online civic networking tool that brings together
experts, professionals, the American public and DHS officials to talk about the
We're not so sure about the groundbreaking part, but the homepage does boast an intriguing
photo slide show, a timeline of upcoming events (relevant and interesting,
unlike TFCN's) including festivals, TV specials and conferences, and links to
the surprisingly charming TSA blog and the less graceful
Homeland Security blog.
The familiar, Ning-based facade
indulges an audience of about eight hundred members - many of which are oddly
from India - often naming "Participants of the Week" to applaud and
make examples of those who digitally engage in meaningful ways. Unfortunately,
the forums are not as robust as one would expect, with surprisingly little talk
about immigration or terrorism, but the photos definitely make up for it, even
though they're only from a few users.
4) GovCentral. This one looks like
a college admissions page -- the staunch white and blue is more Facebook style than MySpace. The website is owned and run by Monster.com, hence the massive job board and intense career focus. GovCentral allows you to peek at various aspects of the site without becoming a
member. Quizzes, salary calculators, and free white paper downloads and
magazine subscriptions are nice features for job seekers and those looking to kill time, but they are easily picked out as created by those who have never actually worked in government, and designed mostly for those who want to do so. The blogs carry more of a "contributor" focus than a member-free-for-all, although much of the regular news content on the site is purchased from news wholesalers.
The cons are that it seems a bit more Blackberry than iPhone, a bit too scripted, tidy, and well, corporate. The buttoned-up
nature that gives it class also limits its atmosphere of community and in some ways it feels soulless. This can be observed in the user-generated content section, where users are simply regurgitating AP news or marketing products rather than providing their own expertise on federal matters, often deemed by some as inside baseball. However, the site does contain fairly robust groups, like the 788-member DOD group and the 617-member "Veterans Helping Veterans" group. Oddly though, it's impossible to locate a list of the social networks members -- a keystone feature for most social networks. Perhaps that is why the site's traffic numbers have tanked by 50 percent over the past six months to just over 50,000?
3) ExchangesConnect -- Launched in
2008 and now boasting over 23,000 members, the State Department's social
network aims to actualize "global diplomacy." Given the site's vibrant design and the motto "connect, communicate, collaborate," it
seems they're off to a good start. The front page currently features a video of
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's invitation for entries for the site's 2nd
annual video contest (awesome!). This, too, is a site where anything beyond the
homepage is blocked to non-members (a standard feature for Ning sites); however, given its global nature, one need
not worry of acceptance and can become a member quickly.
The quality of
discussion on the site is very intriguing, quite possibly due to the scope of
the network -- they even have a book club. Naturally, the user-generated content ranks
quite high as well; afterall, what better place is there for a guy from Kyrgystan to
profess his love for Avatar? Irrespective of how the site is used, the site's goals are commendable:
"ExchangesConnect (http://connect.state.gov) is an
international social network that promotes mutual understanding
among youth and adults by highlighting cultures, commonalities, and
exchange program experiences through user-generated content like
forums, blogs, photos, and videos."
It hasn't quite reached its lofty goal, but they are well on their way to something the folks at Idealist.org would love.
2) Govloop. With 24,000 members and a very vocal community of supporters constantly tweeting and blogging about the site, Govloop, while not the largest government social network, seems to be the most beloved government social network. This is slightly
surprising, given the fact that one needs to be "approved" to join.
Thankfully, my OhMyGov! credibility prevailed and I am now in the (gov)loop;
had I not been approved, I wouldn't have been able to explore beyond the
familiar Ning-based homepage, which isn't nearly as telling as some other social networks.
first impression was that the site's green and yellow color scheme was a tad
overwhelming. Confusingly, amongst the photo uploads from events of interest or
with persons of importance were many merely of members sitting in their
offices; portraits are for your profile, not communal space. Interestingly,
although anyone can make a blog post, the poster can decide who gets to see
their entry, and site administrators select which blogs make the homepage cut.
A brow-raising aspect was a link offering to sell me "credits
for gifts", which, although borrowed from facebook, is too akin to bribery
in the context of a network-for-feds. That being said, one needs to spend only seconds perusing
profiles to taste the real sense of community on the site, and its sheer size
and popularity make it a fed networking mainstay mainly among the Gov 2.0 crowd, communications professionals, and IT folks.
One thing to watch out for is the site's opportunistic marketers who are using the platform to bolster their own agendas, be they selling services, news, or themselves as the greatest thing since sliced bread. As the site matures and continues to grow under the umbrella of GovDelivery, a government contracting firm that recently acquired Govloop, it will inevitably continue to struggle to preserve the philanthropic air with which it was seeded. Now that the site is a for-proft organization, some have questioned the motivations behind it. "Is it still aimed to make government better by connecting people?" We've been asked this question numerous times and having known the founder, Steve Ressler, we can say with certainty; yes it is. But like anything, as time passes and the site grows, so too will the challenges to keep the boutique and close-nit feel a niche social network should have.
Another challenge for the site lay in its relevancy. As many agencies like DoD, IRS, and DIA have built their own social networks, and other agencies appear to be embarking down the same path, we are all left to wonder: will Govloop survive the rollout of internal, behind the firewall social networks? Only time will tell.
1) Military.com. Superlatives never
hurt and sometimes size does matter. So the fact that military.com can claim "the largest online
military community" with over 10 million active and retired military members is worth mentioning. Founded in 1999 and sold to Monster Inc. in 2004 for $40 million, this monstrous site is the pinnacle in efficient
social networks. It is equal parts
social network, news site, educational resource and job search engine. They
even post blogs saturated with confusingly
acute pop culture references. They know they've got a
diverse audience to cater to, and provide a little something for everyone.
There's even a space on the site for military spouses, too. It's
one-stop-web-shopping for those in the military, where one can join a forum conversation, supplement their career with training or advice, locate a buddy, buy military gear, stay informed and enjoy oneself by just
logging in. And while it definitely lacks a sense of community and the user-driven content that makes some of the Ning-based sites sing, what it lacks it lacks in style it makes it up with size.
Honorable mentions, which, due to
exclusivity and firewalls, I can't even find: milBook and A-Space, both built on the JIVE software platform. Hopefully one day, one of their members will retire and write a
tell-all and describe all the wondrous realms of the Department of Defense's
secret digital domains. But alas, until then, we'll just have to settle for
these top 6 gov social networking sites -- not such a bad batch, really.