In November 1998, the United States Department of Defense issued its official
policy on Web Site Administration Policy and Procedures (1998). The policy
was issued following a worldwide shut down of all military-related web
sites on the World Wide Web in September 1998.
At the time, more than 1,000 publicly accessible web sites were removed from the World Wide Web to undergo a thorough content review. The Pentagon feared that information contained on these web sites could possibly compromise national security, expose certain individuals to harm or threaten military readiness. Information found on the web sites included maps, floor plans, troop movement data, lessons learned from military exercises, and operations and social security numbers of DoD personnel.
The DoD guidance and subsequent guidance issued by each of the service components address the need for a thorough security review of web page information prior to posting any information. Public Affairs professionals receive training in performing security review of material prior to dissemination to external audiences.
The DoD realizes that publicly accessible web pages are an innovation in the communications realm that must be responsibly coordinated and controlled. The considerable mission benefits gained by using the World Wide Web must be carefully balanced against the potential risks to DoD interests, programs, and personnel (DoD Policy, 1998). Achieving this goal will take time.
Rogers (1983) Diffusion Theory is defined as the process by which an innovation
is communicated through certain channels over time to a social system.
This research focuses on the innovation in Rogers’ (1983) definition –
publicly accessible web sites. Although a popular means of communication,
there are few guidelines governing or regulating web site creation. In
essence, any military organization regardless of size or mission can establish
and operate a military web site. Web sites currently exist for nearly every
type of military organization, installation, and activity. Linked to web
sites are web pages for various staff agencies, installation activities,
and items of local interest.
Rogers (1983) theorized that how quickly an innovation diffuses through a social system is dependent on the activities of change agents, opinion leaders, and gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are individuals who control the flow of information to a given group of people. For web page design, operation, and maintenance as directed by the DoD, the gatekeeper is the military webmaster. Thus, how effectively the webmaster is trained, equipped, and funded affects how well the individual will oversee web page diffusion.
Trained webmasters with sufficient resources to accomplish their tasks will likely accelerate the rate of adoption within the social system – DoD Public Affairs. Providing webmaster training would increase familiarity with the innovation and reduce any apprehension regarding its use.
Rogers (1983) lists five characteristics of an innovation that makes adoption more likely by the social system. The innovation must have a relative advantage over practices currently in use. Clearly, web pages provide an advantage over print and broadcast dissemination. Web pages give Public Affairs the ability to instantaneously transmit information to a wide audience and the ability to control the amount of time that the information is available for consumption.
The DoD provides training, equipment, and staffing for broadcast and print journalists to enhance their skills. The same considerations should be made for training, staffing, and equipping webmasters.
Innovations whose benefits are observable have a better probability of adoption than innovations without noticeable results. A formal training program that stresses web page design permits noticeable results to be realized. In a classroom environment, webmasters can exchange creative ideas that can be shared and compared. These methods can then be employed to ultimately provide a faster method of providing information access.
Rogers’ (1983) third characteristic of an innovation is its trialability. Web pages certainly meet this criterion. Web pages are here to stay. Providing training on web page design affords webmasters the opportunity to see what makes their web page effective and attractive. Learning how to incorporate graphics, photos and other technical enhancements increases the web page program.
Reducing complexity of the innovation is Rogers’ (1983) fourth attribute of an innovation. Because web pages are technologically unlike other forms of public dissemination tools available to the PAO, only well-trained webmasters can succeed using them. Technical training would reduce the amount of uncertainty webmasters might currently experience in the performance of their duties.
The fifth characteristic of an innovation is its compatibility with an idea or practice current in use. As an information dissemination tool, web pages differ in how they are constructed and the audiences they serve. This difference however is realized when someone must be designated as an organization’s webmaster.
The well-trained PAO, print or broadcast journalist cannot assume the duties of webmaster and succeed without any training or resources. Webmaster training must teach the practices and techniques that maximize the potential uses of the World Wide Web.