23 March 2009

Would you use "interactive" FMs?

As this project about blogs kind of winds down, I keep thinking about other ways that we (the Army) could make better use of the new media technologies. One thing that I keep coming back to is the idea of "interactive" FMs.

Imagine that when you open up an FM or TM or any other manual through the digital library that you could leave comments - maybe something you did to implement doctrine in an operation or training exercies, maybe an idea for better organizing your unit, maybe some after action comments about how something went. Then imagine that when the manual describes something and refers to a figure, that figure is interactive - you can click on various aspects of it for more detail, or maybe it's animated to show the progression of a process.

We already have a process in place for sharing our ideas and comments through the center for lessons learned, but the rest of the Army doesn't benefit from those until the next edition of the manual is released. This "interactive" FM would speed up that process dramatically!

What do you think? Is this idea worth pursuing? Or is it off-the-mark? Weigh in by leaving comments - and take part in the current poll!


  1. That's a damned great idea. This generation of warriors is very adept at using hi tech stuff. An online blog with an editorial staff to police it and draw lessons learned would be an invaluable asset.

    The question is, how do you disseminate the information without creating some unwieldy monstrosity that would defeat the beauty of almost instantaneous information?

    I'll leave that to greater minds than mine...

    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    The Range Reviews: Tactical
    Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit

  2. I do think the current generation of Soldiers would buy-in to something like this. And, I think it would make the manuals more applicable (by making them "living") and interesting to use.
    Several college textbook companies are experimenting with on-line textbooks that integrate videos and other interactive features. I bet we could go to them for some pointers. Then we add some blog-like features to make them truly interactive.
    Since we already have some folks in the electronic manual world - whoever maintains the digital library - my guess is that adding these interactive features wouldn't take a whole lot of added overhead.

  3. Would an interactive FM run a higher risk of misinformation or factual errors, and could there be methods established to prevent a sort of "Wikipedia" environment?

    Scott Gallant
    Journalism Student
    University of Massachusetts

  4. You bring up a great concern, Scott. I think the best way to handle this would not be with a wiki-like solution. In order to ensure only good, useful information this would have to be managed. Additionally, since many of our publications are public, entries would also have to be vetted to ensure they do not compromise security or reveal anything that would put our Soldiers at greater risk.
    This would certainly require some overhead. I believe this overhead already exists, however, in the form of our current doctrinal production structure. Would probably need to "retool" that structure a bit to make sure we've got folks with the right blend of expertise working on it.
    Thanks for your question!

  5. I have thought about this in regards to the USCG. The number of manuals required to operate is incredible and to be able to login and reference an interactive Wiki style manual system would be extremely helpful. Official Updates could be propagated automatically and suggestions could be vetted by the entire user base.

    Additionally for good or bad the Manuals could be held and read on an electronic device ei: Kindle, ITouch or any ereader (The entire wikipedia is only 8G or there abouts). This brings up the question of updates and security but I think these issues can be overcome and are outweighed by the benifits of live updates and collaboration.

    My Two Cents

  6. Hadn't thought about using the portable electronic reader devices, John, but that would make perfect sense. One of my complaints about the transition to electronic manuals has been having to sit at a computer to read them (and part of my old school ways still likes to hold a book, but that's beside the point). The handheld would give the manual back its portability but still maintain the benefits of being electronic. Then, add to that the benefits of making the manuals interactive and I think we're on to something that would improve the way we do business.

  7. Thanks to the four of you, by-the-way, who took part in the poll. Based on this very unscientific survey it seems the idea of interactive field manuals has merit. For posterity's sake, here are the details:

    What do you think about the idea of "interactive" FMs?

    1 (25%) Great idea! I'd use them.
    3 (75%) I like the idea, but am not sure I'd use them.
    0 (0%) I don't read manuals anyway - this wouldn't change that.
    0 (0%) Bad idea, keep our manuals the way they are.