and Research Questions
This study was initiated to determine
the purpose, value, and effectiveness of communication for the military
via web sites, and to ask webmasters what concerns would exist if DoD took
primary control of all military web sites? Even though the survey response
was quite small, it indicates that individual military units, installations,
and commands value the Internet. Based on military webmasters' response,
Internet use appears to have driven the military's technological train
into uncharted territory with an atmosphere of experimentation and a ticket
with no concrete destination.
The FORSCOM Army installation telephone
survey cited previously, shows how haphazardly individual military web
sites have grown, and how in some respects they are becoming unmanageable.
Eight out of the ten installations surveyed do not have proper resources
to effectively manage a web site, and the web sites at those installations
are not properly policed, updated, or maintained.
The current survey of webmasters, conducted
as part of this study, indicates that local web site control is desired
in spite of manpower problems. Webmasters do not want the ability to set
agendas lost in bureaucratic red tape. One webmaster stated that "centralization
would be the single point of failure for DoD."
Both Chaos Theory elements (complex architecture and behavior) appear
to be at work in the military web site question. The architectural structure
of individual military web sites is becoming more complex every day. The
lack of manpower turns more and more of the responsibility for portions
of the sites over to individual units and directorates at each installation.
The liability of proper management and programming and the freedom of descriptive
power are forming a dichotomy that could lead to failure of effective use
of this powerful communication medium (Gackenbach, et al., 1998).
The military Internet system has both
quantity (over 655 webmasters subscribe to DoD Webmasters On Line) and
diversity with many components organized into interrelated structures,
but definitely not taken from the same mold. The current research confirms
that for the most part the government process of embracing the Net has
been what these researchers call "technology from below." Local commanders,
public affairs specialists, and directors of information management in
individual commands have initiated most military web sites without support
from higher headquarters. Approximately 75 percent of the web sites in
this study were not command directed. Either the PAO or the DOIM just took
the initiative. Web sites were created without consulting the DoD web administration
policy (Hamre, 1998), and a reactionary mode was established at the highest
level. This research indicates that manpower is the key to dealing with
the current situation, and that more research could lend action-oriented
solutions as to how much centralization is required to facilitate efficient
use of the Internet.
A very prominent factor in the current
survey responses was the sense of personal ownership exhibited by the majority
of webmasters. A proposal to initiate DoD control is seen as a loss
of freedom. Those creating military web sites do not think DoD is capable
of setting the appropriate agenda for effective military use of the Internet.
DoD control is seen as red tape that will compromise timeliness of the
information that needs to be put out to the public and creativity in the
manner that the information is presented. In 1948, one of the earliest
and best known communication theorists, Lasswell, presented a simple and
often quoted model of communication:
In which channel
With what effect
The majority of the webmasters who responded to the survey would
identify with Lasswell's take on communication. These web administrators
see agenda setting as an important and necessary function of web sites.
It is believed that web sites should remain under local control. When the
web site frames a message, webmasters want it to be the message intended
by the creator. Administrators embrace the Uses and Gratifications Theory,
seeing the users of military web sites as customers who are active participants
in the communication process. More than half the messages presented are
command information related and it is believed by the creators of these
messages that it is the administrator that portrays the "who" in Lassell's
communication definition. The claim is that if customers do not fulfill
a need in a timely manner, then the customer will not return to that web
site. If the customer is not gratified, then the media of choice has failed.
This presents a paradoxical situation. When the data collected by Fort
Riley's DOIM was analyzed, this study determined that most installations
do not have the personnel required to properly frame messages and keep
the web sites updated. Design is suffering with pages becoming more difficult
to navigate, and the quality and style of information presented is being
compromised. With these results it can be determined that local control
appears to be on the verge of loosing control and possible central control
by DoD is equated by DoD webmasters with loosing control.
Anyone who uses a system as complex
as the WWW is a customer, as well as an initiator of communication. When
applying the Uses and Gratifications Theory, this logic places DoD with
the obligation to look at its proponents as customers who are strong and
active and who will make choices. If a centralized directive is given,
will military web sites feel a sense of loss of their identity as the various
commands experience a loss of control? Use and Gratifications Theory tells
us that the customer is selective. DoD centralization can be mandated,
but will it work? Is it the appropriate and most effective way to resource
the use of this information tool that will revolutionize communications
in the next century?
To answer that pivotal question, more
research is needed. This study, though small in nature, has determined
that change is needed, and will be difficult without proper preparation
and consideration. Individual web site identity is perceived as being threatened
by the centralization proposal. The key appears to be action instead of
reaction. An Armed Forces wide survey of webmasters identifies that Intranet
and Internet needs and current resources would provide data to determine
the most effective way for DoD to resource use of the Internet. A commercial
activities study of military web sites to determine the number of staff-hours,
equipment costs, and infrastructure required to maintain a local web site
would also be helpful. Perhaps, private contracting at the local level
is the key to an effective presence on the WWW without loss of identity.
In this study, we asked three questions:
What is the purpose and value of communication via military web sites?
Have the Armed Forces been effective in web communication via web sites
and what concerns would exist if DoD took primary control of the web sites?
The answer to all three requires quality communication within the DoD system
to address the chaos of Internet complexity, the agenda of military web
sites, and the uses and gratification of customers of both webmasters and