Wednesday, May 27, 2009

DOD Publications Need Improvement for Today's War Fighter

So upon noticing some random Department of Defense publications laying about my command the other day, I conceptualized this post.  Nearly everyone in the military has seen the random piles of DOD publications laying about.  Today, I randomly decided to look at Stars and Stripes on Wikipedia.  I'm particularly interested in the fact that most of its staff is civilian, who somehow are supposed to understand the service members perspective vice years gone by when actual soldiers wrote and ran the paper. 

I checked out the electronic version of Stars and Stripes and was dumbfounded by the fact that is electronically published in pdf format.  This is ridiculous.  I challenge anyone to download it and attempt to read it in your pdf viewer to tell me that such is a pleasant experience.  Besides being cumbersome, pdf does not take advantage of hypertext, which saves the reader time in learning his known unknowns. 

The other day I collected three random DOD publications laying about my command.  They are USU Newsletter, Volume 4, Issue 7 (known to be available online in pdf format), The AMEDD, a special Spring 2004 orientation issue of The Mercury, an authorized publication of U.S. Army Medical Command, and The Mercury Vol. 36, No. 7.  (I must give credit to the publishers of The Mercury since its online edition, although not up to modern standards, at least is not pdf based.) I'm reminded of Freedom Watch, which sat around in piles in Afghanistan.  It's most common use was toilet
reading due to its ubiquity.  Who was the audience?  As an english
language publication certainly not the handful of English literate

Of all these publications I ask, who is the intended audience and what is the intended purpose?  Has anyone even formally asked and answered these questions?

When we consider the infinite and varied OODA Loops operating in the large organization in question, the DOD, we must assume that these publications are intended to aid service members in the observe and orient phases of the loop.  What they fail to consider though is the ever tightening loop.  These publications do not support rapid decision making in today's world. 

All these media outlets would be better served by something akin to a blog.  I'm not sure a pure blog would be ideal since in some cases the commander is not looking for feedback, but perhaps a blog with comments would enable useful feedback to commanders.  A pure online publication would shrink the loop in numerable ways, the simpliest being that instead of editions, the website would be continually updated.  No need for an important story to wait for less important stories to be finished and published together.  Further, an online publication would allow the publishers to gather metrics on what levels of interest and types of use different articles have.  For example, most media websites have a most emailed articles list to give all readers an idea of what other readers find important at this very moment. 

Update: on further perusail of the Stars and Stripes website I've realized that the pdf versions are only if you want a particular regional version.  They do have a full online version, but they also have a unnecessary digital edition that is a separate website from the online version.  Does anyone think this version is better than the normal modern online version?

I propose that we take all the various command publications throughout the DOD and establish clear standards and a central website where anybody can read all the publications at once as an integrated publication. 

The views expressed here are those of mine only, and are not to be
construed as those of the Department of the Navy or Department of