In both free and paid deployments, these collaborative networks are proving to be a favorite testing ground for a new way to manage the knowledge of soldiers. In some ways, these rigidly hierarchical organizations are displaying an real willingness to experiment, compared to the civilian businesses declaring themselves enterprise 2.0.
In late June, the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate and the Battle Command Knowledge System (shorthand for "no one outside the military knows what we actually do"), made public their efforts to allow soldiers to update Field Manuals via wiki.
The real source of knowledge for any field manual, military or civilian, is the people on the ground. The process of gathering and filtering that information to put it in to official Army Field Manuals typically takes three to five years, and the wiki experiment is tasked with seeing if they can reduce that time frame. It's no surprise they're emphasizing the real-time capabilities of sharing information: after all, wiki means quick.
This initial pilot is built on MediaWiki, the free and open source software behind Wikipedia, and will let Army personnel get their hands on seven Field Manuals already in use.
This isn't the first time the U.S. military has tried the wiki way. For some time now, RDECOM in the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, the US Marine Corps, and the Defense Language Institute have been MindTouch customers.
There's no doubt that wiki software of all kinds has been used on a departmental basis within the military for years. But this summer's test is the first time the Army itself has gone public with one. No doubt they'll find the software and the collaborative culture it inspires transformative.