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Social media, digital directory collide on Capitol Hill with '3121'

A new Web 2.0 venture by the National Journal Group aims to bring the 21st century to congressional staffers in Washington, D.C.

Social media and a digital directory will collide on Capitol Hill tomorrow with 3121, a new venture by the National Journal Group to bring the 21st century to Washington congressional staffers.

Created in response to staffers' demands of a digital directory of people on the Hill -- the current system is a series of printed books called "Leadership Directories" that can barely keep up with staff turnover -- the site is a bipartisan, bicameral walled garden that combines elements of Facebook, LinkedIn and a simple online company directory.

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE HILL

By wrangling the power of a digital database and cloud computing, 3121 can list, sort and search members based on name, title, affiliation, office, political party, political issues and several other attributes.

Succinctly, "who handles what," including official legislative responsibilities.

It also allows for lighter fare, including educational background, religion, birthplace, military service, interests and more.

The site combines administrative, political and personal elements, offering Facebook-like profiles, LinkedIn-like professional groups, traditional message boards that can be tagged and drop.io-like collaboration tools to allow the sharing of documents and other files between members.

The home page "dashboard" allows for widget modules of intra-site news and outside RSS feeds and profile pages allow for pictures and a "similar people" listing.

The "groups" section is the place to find existing offices and committees (as well as ad hoc groups) with four levels of privacy (open, members-only, private, secret), and the "discussions" section offers a traditional discussion board with tagged conversations.

(National Journal Group says it will allow the site to police itself, and will only step in for security or site development purposes. Obviously, misbehaving on an internal professional social network is a quick way to be dismissed from your job.)

There's a persistent "your stuff" menu for quick links to your own documents, discussions, etc., and a "history" section offers a unique shortcut to previously accessed pages, section by type ("discussions," "groups," etc.)

Members can "add a colleague" with one click.

OUTSOURCING PRODUCTIVITY

3121 is the product of a yearlong effort by the parent group of popular beltway journalism publication the National Journal, itself owned by the Atlantic Media Group.

(I'm told this is a church-and-state scenario, and National Journal editorial staffers have nothing to do with the project.)

To encourage participation -- young, tech-savvy staffers and communications directors are already ecstatic -- the site has already been prepopulated with roughly 9,500 names and their titles, offices and contact information, based on information that's publicly available on official congressional websites.

The site is powered by social media firm Jive Software, which previously worked with the Washington intelligence community, Intel, Nike, VMWare, NetApp and SAP.

For now, 3121 is restricted to Washington-based Congressional staffers, and can only be viewed by its members. (That doesn't include district staff in their respective states.)

Security is a high priority, and I'm told there's a strong Terms of Service to handle potentially-uploaded sensitive documents. "If Jive [Software] can work with the FBI and CIA, they can work with Congress," one spokeswoman told me.

Further, staffers who leave the Hill for private sector jobs lose e-mail activation, invalidating their 3121 membership.

RAMPING UP INTEREST

To get the word out, the NJG has been running a Google AdWords campaign since August and targeted Facebook and Linkedin campaigns since July. It expects 150 to 200 people to join over the summer.

The site is ad-supported.

Oh, and why "3121," you ask? (No, not the Prince album.) Those digits refer to the last four numbers of the switchboard of Capitol Hill, or where you end up if you decide to call your elected representative.

With hope, perhaps we'll eventually see a "1414" sister site for the executive branch and another for the judicial.

3121 goes live tomorrow.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com