Statement of Problem

Rationale 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:
Says what
In which channel
To Whom
With what effect 
(Littlejohn, 1996)
 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 consumers.