National Archives’ Facebook-like platform for workers goes mobile

National Archives (NARA/Flickr)

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National Archives workers now can sign onto the agency’s internal “Facebook” from their mobile devices.

Officials last week began piloting a version of the National Archives’ Internal Collaboration Network that users can access from their cell phones, tablets and home computers.

“Our idea is to try to reach people who don’t have designated computers” at work, said Kelly Osborn, who spearheaded the creation of the ICN.

Kelly-Osborn-headshot
Kelly Osborn is the “Mark Zuckerberg” of the National Archives’ ICN social networking platform.

Who are these technologically untethered workers? National Archives officials say the roll out is geared toward the 1,100 employees who spend their days sorting documents — anything from claims files for veterans to blueprints of federal buildings — and archiving them in Federal Records Centers.

The ICN program began 3 1/2 years ago as a way to bring together disparate corners of the agency, which has offices from New York to the West Coast, Osborn said. Using ICN, workers can create profiles, post status updates, share documents and start groups. It’s like Facebook, she said, but with a full suite of business tools.

Acceptance was slow when the agency first unveiled ICN, she said. But the agency noticed that encouraging people to use the platform for personal interactions made them more comfortable with using it for work. So ICN hosts special interest groups for everyone from parents of college students to pet lovers.

“When you go into a meeting, nobody sits down and starts talking about the topic at hand and the agenda,” she said. “There’s always five minutes where people talk about their kids or their weekends. And this is kind of a similar thing.”

Now, the platform has 2,000 users. (There are 3,000 people who work at the National Archives.)

The 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts in 2012 was one of the first projects National Archives officials began using ICN to collaborate. Across the country, National Archives officials shared information about projects and events they were working on so others could collect ideas.

Users can also use it to get answers to quick questions, like: “How do I back up my iPhone?” And recently, staffers have been using it to post about what they learned at a Society for American Archivists conference many attended, she said.

Communicating across the globe

National Archives isn’t the only agency to use an internal social network. NASA launched “Spacebook” in 2009 (but discontinued the program in June 2012), and in 2011, the State Department debuted Corridor as a way to help its employees spread across the globe better communicate.

“The department is pretty far flung,” Danielle Garner, division chief of knowledge leadership division at State, told FedScoop. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of good experiences.”

State wanted to create a platform that helped users find people with certain types of expertise. For an example, users can search for people who have experience with hosting the president in the country they’re posted in. And like the National Archives’ ICN, Corridor offers a space where people can chat about work as well as personal interests.

“One of our popular groups is ‘Foreign Service Institute Food Trucks,’” Garner said. “It’s a way for people in the department to not only connect on a work level but to connect on work-life balance issues.”

Most of the platform’s 22,000 users (the department employees 70,000 people) are based in the country. Currently, the agency is looking for ways to reach more of its workers posted abroad and improve the system’s search functions.

“We’re always trying to look at applications, other ways that we can improve it, to fit the needs and better serve our customers,” she said.

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Agencies, mobile and wireless, mobile apps, Mobile Devices, mobility, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Tech
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