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A New Way to Connect

I haven't contributed to the "Letters to You" blog before today, but I'm excited to do so! I joined the MilitaryAvenue team in early 2008 and it has been fun to jump into a new and exciting project. If you are reading this blog, you are probably familiar enough with the Internet to have at least heard of Facebook. It has gained some popularity and success over the past couple of years - roughly 65 million users with an average of 250,000 new users signing up each day! That's exciting for the people at Facebook, but what did it mean for us at MilitaryAvenue?

In mid 2007, Facebook created the Facebook Developer's Platform. It allows developers to create applications that take advantage of Facebook's user authentication and vast amount of social information. Facebook already helps friends, past and present, connect and share photos, messages, and information about one's life. However, most of these connections assume that you either went to the same high school, the same college, or grew up in the same town. With the mobile nature of today's military, obviously finding these connections could be difficult for the average member of the military - or family member.

At MilitaryAvenue, we decided that we would try to take advantage of our "insider" knowledge of the military to create a Facebook application that would help members of the military, spouses, or military kids, reconnect with old friends, network, and find new friends before a relocation. Our application (available at http://apps.facebook.com/militaryavenue - requires a Facebook account) allows those with some connection to the military to share where they have served their country.

I'll share a brief explanation of how the application works. After a user adds the application, he selects the military branch that he has affinity with and his current status (which includes 'spouse/sig other' and 'family member 'along with options like 'active duty' and 'retired'). Then the user can input the different locations he has served - we have over 600 different military installations included in the database, of which over 250 are user submitted! Information such as the years served, highest rank, and a "Memorable Experience" for each location are also requested. The application then places a small information box on the user's profile page that allows the user's friends to see things like: years of service, current location, number of relocations, rank, and even a map of all of the places the person has served!

While much of the application revolves around allowing a user to show some pride in where he/she has served, there is also a component that takes advantage of what Facebook calls the "social graph". One of the things that we think is most exciting about the application is the "Buddy Finder". Available for each installation, when clicked, that link shows a list of everyone else in our database who served at that location. It is a great way to find old friends - or if you know you will be moving to a particular installation - a great way to meet new friends before you make the move!

We're excited to provide this application, and we'd love to hear what you think! We recently had our 1,000th person add the application, and we've received some great responses! One I received yesterday said "I think what you're trying to do with this application is awesome!" We hope that it is a great tool to bring friends together and make others aware of the sacrifice required to be part of the U.S. military!

How many friends from prior assignments do you keep in touch with? Have you found ways to use technology to better keep in touch?

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