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Sole Source is Out, RFP is in. But I'm still annoyed.

For those who are waiting with bated breath, I have an update on the Navy's requirement "to develop an internal social networking community relevant to service members in a military environment."

I have heard through the grapevine that because two other companies asked to be added to the list of Interested Vendors, the Navy has issued an RFP. But I'm still annoyed. For two reasons.

  1. The RFP was released only to Red Rover Technologies and the two other interested vendors from FedBizOpps.
  2. I believe there are enough social networking options -- call them GOTS, if you will -- already available within the Federal government to obviate the need for an RFP at all.

Annoyance Number 1

A grand total of three companies will be able to see and bid on this RFP. Three? As I said on Twitter yesterday, "With so many social media and Government 2.0 mavens on Twitter, how is it that there are only TWO on this list of 'interested vendors'??"

Given the number of people and companies that are trying to make a buck off Government 2.0, I don't think there's a lack of interest in general. What could be the reason for the lack of interest on FedBizOpps?

  • Maybe it's the very short window of time that the notice was available? Posted Date: January 28, 2010; Response Date: Feb 04, 2010 12:00 pm Eastern -- a whole week. This scenario reminds me of a rumor I've heard about the way government agencies do job listings. If you haven't heard the rumor, it's basically this:" they" will post a job on the Internet for all the minimum of 5 days because they already know who they want to hire anyway. Can we assume that seven days is the minimum posting time for a sole source notification? If so, I hope this lesson has taught us that the social media folks need to keep a daily eye on this website. Since FedBizOpps doesn't provide it natively, I've now added a Google Reader-generated RSS feed that monitors the search terms "social network" and "social media" on the contracting site. If you'd like to check it out, visit my Google Reader Shared Items.
  • Maybe the social media mavens have crossed so far into the future of the Internet that they aren't willing to deal with an archaic, database-driven website like FedBizOpps? If the news isn't on Twitter or Facebook is it not worthy of their time and attention? Or have the the digital natives not managed to school themselves in the ways of government contracts? Perhaps FedBizOpps could be modernized so that it supports RSS, content sharing, etc.

Annoyance Number 2

According to the Navy's Performance Work Statement, they have four objectives for their new social network:

  • Find out, real time, what service members do and/or want to do in their off-duty leisure time so that Liberty can plan and offer relevant programs, events and services
  • Tailor advertising messages to the service members who indicate an interest in the type of program, event or service being offered
  • Tailor advertising messages to the method in which service members indicate they would like to receive messages about off-duty leisure opportunities
  • Connect service members to others who have the same or similar interests

Many companies, non-profits, and government organizations have already tried to do the same thing -- and failed -- for various affinity groups in the world. They usually find that if the members of their affinity group have already built social networks in one of popular sites on the Internet, they would prefer not to join something new and have to start all over again. They would rather integrate the affinity group into their existing social network. Heck, even Google recently learned a lesson like this. They thought Google Buzz would be instantly adopted by their core Google Mail community, but instead they experienced a user backlash. Many users were concerned for their privacy, but an equally large number simply didn't want to have to monitor yet another feed.

If the Navy wants to do a test to see if they can beat the odds, can't they at least save my tax dollars and do it using a social networking tool that's already bought and paid for? The GOTS programs I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • APAN -- a "community of communities" and a web site that combines the benefits of unstructured collaboration (wikis, blogs, forums) and structured collaboration (file sharing, calendar) with the personalization of social networking to facilitate unclassified information sharing. (No special equipment required. The Navy could start pilot testing with this system IMMEDEIATELY. For FREE. Or maybe CHEAP. I may have been confused... APAN may be a combo of COTS/GOTS.)
  • MilBook -- an initiative to connect people across the Defense Knowledge Online community. milBook acts as a central hub for networking workforce professionals with others of similar interests, much like the popular social media sites Facebook™ and LinkedIn™. Users have the ability to share information through group blogs, discussions, and private wiki documents allowing secure communities of interest to grow and connect with others across the greater Military community. (Special equipment required: sailors in the pilot program would need CACs and readers. One equipment is confirmed, the Navy could start pilot testing with this IMMEDIATELY. For FREE.)
  • Spacebook -- a professional network that lets NASA people and communities connect to each other in a new way. Spacebook is an enhanced Intranet designed around user profiles, forums, groups, and social tagging. (Since this system was developed for NASA, the Navy would be able to get the software for free, but they would have to pay for installation, operation, and maintenance of the system for their own purposes. Might not be so great for a pilot program.)
  • A-Space -- a common collaborative workspace for intelligence analysts. It offers web-based messaging and collaboration tools; it has been referred to by the media as Facebook for spies. (Since this system was developed for the Intelligence Commuity, the Navy would be able to get the software for free, but they would have to pay for installation, operation, and maintenance of the system for their own purposes. Might not be so great for a pilot program.)

There's also the very obvious option of commercially-developed social networking services. Many of which are conveniently listed on Apps.Gov. (Note that the price listed for each an every one of GSA's social networks is FREE.) If the Navy really wants to find out what their sailors are doing during their off-duty hours, why don't they go toFriendFeed, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or SocialText to find out?

On Facebook, for example, they could easily create a group that can be joined only by members of the U.S. Navy network, which requires participants to have an [email protected] navy.mil email address. Unfortunately, there are probably archaic laws and regulations that preclude this option. (For the record, I don't know of any specific legal obstructions; I'm just banking on Murphy's law.)

Sigh. One last thing...

In an interesting turn of events, Tracy Johnson twittered on Feb 16th about Navy social media guru CDR Scott McIlnay's BlogWell presentation in San Diego. According to a live blog of the event, "Scott says the Navy is on Facebook, NavyforMoms.com, Twitter (@NavyNews), YouTube, flickr, and NAVYLive Blog." Seems like they should be able to get some insight on what young sailors are into.

I hope somebody from Navy MWR asked CDR McIlnay's opinion before going ahead with their requirements document and RFP...

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Teri - Wow. You are hot on the trail of this meandering requirement!

Even though the RFP has been released, it still appears as if that's just a formality. Most likely there's a relationship somewhere...and that's holding sway. This is how the procurement process works sometimes.

What I like most about your reporting on this requirement is that you aren't settling for a mere protest of the process. You are offering viable alternative solutions. I'm wondering if you can formally submit these insights above to the POC, and see if you can have any influence on the outcome. It could just be that they are unaware of these potential options.

Keep us posted.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Actually navyformoms is a really vivrant community.

I'm all for agencies looking on how to increase collaboration amongst its employees. And I hope that more look at the concept. But I think there are a couple things to factor:

1 - What's the business problem you are trying to solve?
2 - Where do they already live? From FB to GovLoop to NavyForMoms to DKO to Intellipedia
3 - What's your community management/engagement plan? It truly isn't a technology problem - but mainly a cultural and collaboration problem.

Profile Photo Keith Moore

Teri, I would say that the upside opportunity here is to continue the momentum by adding to every federal agency idea share website-a request to have an internal social networking solution contracted out as a part of their Open Government Directive implementation plan. Very important issue here that needs an ongoing movement.

Keep me/us posted.

Profile Photo Sterling Whitehead

3? THREE? You're kidding me.

This is such a blatant waste of taxpayers dollars, it's ridiculous.

The "we know these guys, we like these guys" acquisition attitude just shouldn't be tolerated by the Navy.

Keep reporting on this. You're doing great work.

Profile Photo Andrea Baker

To be honest, I quickly looked at this opportunity and felt that for the time it took to respond it would not be worth the effort. in the long run, the job is probably for 1-2 persons. Probably why a lot of companies chose to pass it over.

Profile Photo Ed Powell

Why would the Navy want to create a NEW military-focused social networking community when there is ALREADY one with half the active duty military AND spouses and tons of former military and retired?? Start with "Military.Com" and build out from there!