The U.S. military's Eureka project, slated to launch in mid-July, mirrors the popular social media site Reddit. ()
If all goes according to plan, the U.S. military will soon have its own analog of Reddit, the popular social site where user votes push the best content and ideas to the top for all to see.
Called Eureka, the project is slated to go up in mid-July, joining a collection of other Defense Department-only Web tools that mirror popular social media sites such as Wikipedia and YouTube. Eureka will be a part of the Facebook analog known as milBook, though the site has been designed to feel independent.
The idea is to host discussions that lead to revolutionary solutions; for example, improved training, better ways to secure mobile devices, or any other problems that plague the military and hamper efficiency.
“Maybe someone on milBook has that idea or can crack that nut,” said Tom Curran, product director for milSuite, a part of the organization MilTech Solutions that is associated with the Army’s Program Executive Office Command Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “It might be a dream, but it might be something that nobody has considered yet.”
Eureka will be part of milSuite, a set of social-networking tools that live on DoD’s NIPRNet, which contains sensitive but unclassified information or content for official use only.
MilSuite includes milWiki, milBook, milTube, and milBlog, military-focused and firewall-protected versions of Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, and a news blog based on WordPress, respectively. They are also online repositories to store knowledge that might be lost during the drawdown of troops and eventual exodus of leadership.
MilSuite was conceived in response to the 2005 base realignment and closure as a way to retain knowledge as experts in various subjects left the military.
The primary components of milSuite were developed by MilTech and PEO C3T and launched as a collection in 2009. Today, milSuite boasts more than 200,000 users, including 200 admirals and generals — and even several four-stars.
Eureka will offer users a simple system that lets them tag “ideas” and vote them up or down. The point is ultimately to place innovations in front of leaders who might be able to implement them.
The site is meant to use everything from competition to compensation to get people interested in submitting both problems and solutions. Many members of the military have the competitive drive to perform better than their peers, whether that means posing a better question or coming up with a more creative solution. Alternatively, the developers at milSuite have toyed with compensating users who create big money-saving ideas.
“There are many things that the formal system misses, because not only are we working the problem, we’re working the budget and policy issues that surround the problem,” said Jim Benn, deputy director of the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate. “Sometimes we need that infusion of great ideas coming in from an external source. The notion of having your idea voted up will strike a harmonious chord that’s in many of us.”
Lt. Col. Lawrence Grega, who suggested using idea or innovation tabs to create a “corral of ideas,” sees milSuite and Eureka as a place for passionate people to engage and solve problems.
“You lose subject matter experts. You need to retain institutional knowledge,” Grega said. “In milSuite, you can retain these conversations. When I’m long gone, what I was out to do is going to be there for people to look at.”
Though Benn didn’t know how widespread the practice was, some commanders have required their troops to contribute information to the milWiki pages after completing training or missions, thus transmitting vital information to the next troops who will be in the area.
The military is working on making the milSuite tools familiar and incorporating them into everyday use.
“We are going to make it a formal part of our education system,” Benn said. “So now when soldiers go to their various schools and training events, a portion of that training process will be an introduction to milSuite.”
This will mean that a new generation of users will be accustomed to contributing suggestions to doctrine on the wiki pages, uploading instructional videos, and connecting with other military personnel across branches. MilSuite aims to be the “enterprise solution” and gateway that service members can use as a one-stop shop for information.
“By December 2015, we expect the force to have come full circle, and that using milSuite will be a rule and not an exception,” Benn said.
Harnessing the information of troops is essential to updating field manuals, providing the most recent information and skills, and giving useful training on-demand to those who want it. Benn says milSuite provides soldiers an easily accessible location where they can share their experiences and put their ideas in front of an authority.
“That soldier has the ability to influence the Army,” he added.
While milSuite’s wiki pages may be more conducive to this kind of technical information, Eureka should fill a gap in coordinating across branches and incorporating ideas from experts, leading to innovations big and small. Anyone with a Common Access Card and the right account type can access the Web tools, meaning DoD contractors, civilians and military can participate. The key to innovation, Grega said, is connecting people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other and transferring their knowledge.
“You don’t get to an ‘aha!’ moment until you’ve already been mulling things over for a long time.”
Lauren Biron is the editor of Training & Simulation Journal.