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One size fits all: Air Guard public Web sites migrating to standard page

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Air National Guard Web sites are migrating to a more consistent design that's user- and maintainer-friendly.

The Air Guard has joined the regular Air Force and Reserve in consolidating and standardizing its public Web sites using Air Force Public Web (AFPW), a program that gives wings a professional-looking Web template and easy-to-use system to fill it up with content and manage it.

ANG sites are being modeled after Air Force Link (www.af.mil), the official site of the Air Force, so that "the general public knows an Air Force site when they see one," AFPW literature states.

The migration project officer at National Guard Bureau, Capt. Robert Leese, said 25 wing sites have switched already and 18 more are in the process of switching. That's out of 88 wings. Leese believes the AFPW migration team will have more than 50 migrated by September.

Web design made easy
Before there was Web design software like Dreamweaver and Frontpage, HTML and XML, codes and tags; now there's just the Air Force Public Information Management System. AFPIMS is a Web-based content management system designed to support Air Force personnel with Web content creation and publishing tasks.

Those in charge of their unit's sites complete 10 blocks of computer-based training and a one-hour live session with an AFPIMS team member to become certified. Leese says the 10 blocks can be completed in about two to three hours.

Master Sgt. Burke Baker of Utah's 151st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs and Multimedia Office, said the migration process was relatively easy, taking about three weeks.
He appreciates AFPIMS' major benefits.

"It allows our traditional public affairs personnel to upload stories and manage the Web site from home, even during the month when they are not performing a unit training assembly," Baker said.

"As a full-time technician, I can upload a story and my traditional public affairs officer can review, edit, approve and post the story without having to come into the office," Baker said. "The process makes getting information out to Guardsmen, the public and the media much faster."

The need for a standardized Web presence emerged in March 2002 when a DoD Inspector General's audit found that hundreds of public Air Force sites varied widely in design and professionalism and many were publishing unapproved, non-reviewed and irrelevant content.

Many hidden sites for wing sub-organizations lurked in cyberspace and the review identified multiple security violations.

Some of the advantages to migrating, according to AFPW, are:

· State-of-the-art, consistent look and feel
· Expanded technology capabilities, i.e. videos, RSS feeds, podcasts and more
· Intuitive design environment for site managers
· Power to push stories to the ANG site from the unit level
· Consolidated hosting that decreases infrastructure, manpower and operating costs
· Content and security assurance within

Units can pick and choose what goes on their sites from their own content to that of "big" Air Guard and Air Force. In early July, Oregon's 142nd Fighter Wing's Web page displayed a photo of their F-15s flying over a snowy mountain peak; the 174th FW of New York had a picture of returning troops as its main photo with a family readiness section just below; California's 144th FW included their unit's patch and leadership and career openings sections; and North Dakota's 119th Wing's Web page hit you with a recruiting-focused JPEG of a security forces member and plenty of "Happy Hooligan News" videos.

It's a hit
The AFPW Migration Team Chief Andy Karam, who's been working the project at the Bureau since January, said another AFPW benefit is that it helps gather analytical data (number of visitors, pageviews, top-visited pages, etc.). This helps site managers gauge the effectiveness of what they're posting.

Karam also describes AFPW as an increased security measure because it uses forward-caching servers, which works this way: When visitors access an ANG site, even though the servers that contain the data are centrally located, the individuals will interface with one of many intermediary "forward" servers that are geographically closer to them. It's more secure, and the content is delivered faster, Karam said.

He said that units are typically employing one full-time site manager and one backup, with one of the two being in the wing public affairs office.

Karam has found little if any resistance from the communications squadron personnel, who historically ran the sites for the wing. "There's been no kicking and screaming, because they now have a system that makes it a lot easier for them to run their Web site," he said.

Baker agrees, saying he appreciates its ability to update itself automatically. "Having dynamic content pushed daily from AFNEWS or National Guard Bureau gives [my] Web page the look that it always has fresh content, though you personally might not have updated it for several days."

Baker says there is a small downside to these af.mil-clones. "[Like] most sites ... it does limit design creativity, but by doing so, it allows all Air Force and ANG Web sites to have the same consistent, professional look. Also, the helpdesk is very willing to work with you."

No middle man
Capt. Randy L. Saldivar, 149th Fighter Wing public affairs officer, said his unit's former Web page, managed by the communications squadron, left a lot to be desired.

He said the reason was that "they aren't in the business of getting the info out to folks. They are compliance and internal communications-driven. Consequently, the page was static," and added that if no one from communications was available, nothing was posted.

"The Air Force got it right when they put public affairs in charge of public information," said Saldivar.

The paper newsletter--is that all she wrote?
If the experiences of Baker and Saldivar resonate, AFPW may signal the demise of the print newsletter.

Once Saldivar worked to get the 149th's site live in February, the first one to do so in the Air Guard, he ceased mailing out a print newsletter.

"Don't get me wrong, I much more prefer a paper copy mailed to my home," he said. "However, I can post items on the site immediately and reach a much larger audience." He's saved labor and $6-8,000 annually in printing and mailing costs.

As a compromise, he posts links to the Lackland Air Force Base newspaper and Texas National Guard's magazine.

"I think there was some initial apprehension when we decided to stop putting out a monthly print newsletter," said Baker, another one to stop the presses. "However, I think once Airmen realize that this site is more than just a story library and is updated more than just on UTA weekends, then that apprehension will change to excitement."

Now's the time
If your unit hasn't started the migration, now's the time. Leese said after Oct. 1, 2009, all non-migrated and non-waivered ANG public Web sites will be inaccessible.

For more information and to arrange the migration of your unit's public Web site, please contact the migration team at DSN 327-8693/5923 or commercial (703) 607-8693/5923.