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June 13, 2008  1:45 PM

What is Unity? Lockheed-Martin’s implementation of a social computing platform wows Enterprise 2.0 conferees.

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One of the unexpected hits of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past week was a presentation by Lockheed-Martin on Unity, its social computing platform. One of the world’s largest defense contractors would seem an unlikely candidate for early adoption of enterprise 2.0 technologies, or at least that was the impression when the session kicked off. By the end of the hour, audience members were asking “Where can I buy it?”

[Image credit: TechLuver.com]

Shawn Dahlen and Christopher Keohan talked at length about what they’d learned over the course of eighteen months developing the platform, kicking off their presentation by noting that there was a compelling need in government sector to collaborate through social media. Chris noted that embracing social computing at Lockheed Martin a major component of recruiting talented Generation Y IT workers, the so-called “millenials,” as showing the company’s prowess in the adoption of cutting edge tools was a key differentiator.

Before Unity was implemented, the state of collaboration at their enterprise should be quite familiar to most corporate workers : email, meetings and office docs like Powerpoint presentations emailed around as attachments. “Project Unity” was conceived as a way of applying Web2.0 technologies for “mission success.” To that end, the team resolved to provide a user experience employees would love, address “what was in it for them” and balance the need to share vs the need to know — crucial in a defense contractor. Unity’s designers wanted to foster a social computing ecosystem around a standardized platform, integrating blogs, wikis and other documents into their current platform. Over time, they added discussion forums, a social bookmarking tool called “uBookmark” and weekly activity reporting to capture usage and adoption patterns. They included a suggestion tool to solicit community insights on the project as it rolled out and created an internal homepage to aggregate popular content. Unity’s internal team of developers also made a priority of maintaining a cohesive user experience and to ensuring that all information could be both feed-enabled and integrated.

How did they pull it off? By integrating Google enterprise search appliance (GSA) , Microsoft’s Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS) and Newsgator’s Enterprise Server. Take a look at this demonstration of Social Sites 2.0 to get a feel for what this looks like. They Unity development team took a close look at how to use social computing tools in an everyday business context and took the time to understand how they would integrate and evolve from the existing email/Powerpoint/meeting model.

The crucial question, asked over and over again this week, was addressed head-on by Unity’s designers: “What is the value of social networking in the enterprise?”

Their answer was, in the end, simple: Being able to watch what other people are doing, easily, and then being able to search it and ask questions raises productivity and leads to improved collaboration and knowledge exchange. Instead of tracking what your friends are doing on, say, Facebook with a “friend feed,” an enterprise derives value from tracking an activity stream of interconnected colleagues. At any point, a worker can see what others are working on, access shared documents and ask questions on shared virtual workspaces or directly to the relevant decision maker or technologist.

Lockheed-Martin built the basic Unity platform in 07 and then ran a beta pilot of it over the course of the year with 40 engineers building, testing and experimenting with the release. After the initial release, it took just six months for a second iteration that addressed both information security and legal issues.

A crucial question that they were asked to account for again and again will be familiar to CIOs: How did they quantify the return on investment (ROI) for the dedication of internal resources and purchase of software? Each time, the traditional productivity savings of a user finding information was a factor. What really sold them, however, was the soft case of customers interested in their social computing initiative. Unity helped in Lockheed-Martin’s bidding process, especially proposals that involved knowledge managememt.

As the project rolled out, a crucial component was the in development and distribution of a “collaboration playbook.” New standards for playbook and best practices were laid out in its pages. For instance, as a team member, you should ask questions on a group page, not wander over to ask or send a broadcast email; this helps to capture questions and answers for everyone. Adding to documentation whenever possible was crucial, along with teaching people the power of linking and understanding which communication type made sense for different business cases: blog posts, wikis, email, virtual conferences or in-person meetings. In the end, the Unity team created the playbook as much for themselves as they worked as for the company as a whole, “eating their own dogfood.” They used a project management office (PMO) blog to keep colleagues up to date about what the dev team was doing.

One of their other key discoveries was that pervasive enterprise search is key to keeping documents both relevant and accessible.

What’s next for the team? Adding filters to content that depend upon the clearance of those accessing it. In highly classified work, user-assignable taxonomies are crucial for opening up content for collaboration while maintaining information security. Also in the works are adding recommended content, similar to the Digg-model of social news, employee profiles, export control filters and network-based search.

If you’re looking for a great case study for enterprise 2.0 adoption, look up Unity.

June 13, 2008  12:14 PM

What are the characteristics of enterprise 2.0 technologies?

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At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past week in Boston, Dion Hinchliffe offered a three-hour workshop focused on understanding both the progress of social software in enterprises and then drilling down into the details of implementation and techniques.

In Hinchcliffe’s “State of Enterprise 2.0” address (hereafter referred to as “E2.0”, he noted that in terms of the hype cycle around the term over the past two years, there used to be “lots of talking, little doing.”

That’s changed. Throughout the demo pavilion at the conference, dozens of of software makers presented competing and collaborative products that are viable tools for bringing social computing within the enterprise. The buzz was no longer so much about “what is enterprise 2.0” as “how do I start implementing it at my organization” and “how did you apply these tools to your business case.” Two years ago, very few people could create blog or wiki page on an intranet. When Dion polled the crowd for how many attendees could create either of those social software types, many hands went up. The devil, of course, is in the details.

The “blurring of the lines between consumer and social media” and transition from “top down term for bottom up world” presents challenges on both technical and cultural levels. Instead of single locked-down systems, workers can collaborate online — and if the tools aren’t available behind the firewall, consumer versions are being brought in, with associated issues of security, compliance and best practices.
Much of what we’ve learned about how networked applications work best is coming from the consumer Web. This represents  a shift from historic trends, where enterprise architectures were the normal innovative path. In other words, the story begins with  Web 2.0.  There have been subtle changes in the way the Web being used. Software makers have shifts more control to users, in terms of the content created, how it is structured and the processes involved in production or implementation. Simpler software models that embrace the intrinsic power of networks are popping up, including virtually free applications that almost anyone can learn easily. The Web is now a platform, with “data as the next ‘Intel Inside.'” We’re seeing the end of software release cycle and have entered the age of the perpetual beta — just look at Google applications in the cloud.

As Hinchcliffe noted repeatedly, success stories are emerging, with reports of improved communication and collaboration, heightened productivity and cross-pollination between previously “siloed” groups or disparate locations.

Hinchcliffe noted other patterns emerging from enterprise 2.0 implementations, including the need for:

  • Community management, both in terms of technologies to track usage and behavior and community managers to use them
  • Social media guidelines for workers, with respect to the type of content posted and best practices for blogs, wikis or group pages
  • Change management methodologies
  • Driving adoption of E2.0 by commitment at the executive levels of an organization, especially CXOs, CIOs and CTOs
  • Governance of E2.0 communities, like “How do you remove a post or link? Or make one? Which tags should you never use?”
  • Measurement of outcomes, including ROI and social media metrics for usage and

Currently, cultural, infrastructure and security concerns are holding back adoption.  E2 .0 tools are in their infancy — integrated search almost never is integrated, for instance. And organizationss with low levels of knowledge workers will benefit much less from these tools.
That being said, Hinchliffe asserted that the Cluetrain Manifesto was right all along . 10 years later, much of what was contained in those 95 theses was dead on — markets are conversations. He also offered one of the best condensed definitions for Enterprise 2.0 I’d heard:

“Networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects.” — Tim O’Reilly
In this sense, a network effect is when a good or service has more value the more that other people have it too.” (Wikipedia). Examples of this abound, like postal mail, aka “snail mail,” the telephone and telegraph, email, IM, Web pages, blogs or anything with an open network structure, including microblogging hybrids like Twitter. T

There’s an ongoing shift from institutional controls of information and video to collaborative filtering and reporting, as central production is moved to distributed networks of peer production.

So, what is E2.0? Emegent, freeform, social applications for use within the enterprise. The use of blogs and wikis to capture information, with social networks of peers using shared virtual workspaces. Globally-visible persistant collaboration with consistently verified improvements in productivity and innovation.
If this sounds a bit heady to you, it is. The bubble of Web 2.0 hype has moved into big business. The question now is how managers and administrators will implement wikis and other forms of enterprise social software. Fortunately, several case studies emerged from the conference that offer some insight, including Intellipedia, Serena Software and Lockheed-Martin. I’ll be exploring the latter in a later post.

June 12, 2008  9:40 PM

What is Microsoft’s vision for social computing? Sharepoint’s Community Lead offers some perspective.

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Lawrence Liu is a Senior Technical Product Manager and the Community Lead for SharePoint Products and Technologies at Microsoft. In the short video below, he talks with WhatIs.com’s Alex Howard on the demo floor at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston about the evolution of social software, the development of Sharepoint and the extension of the collaborative software’s capabilities and integration with Office products. Liu also discusses interoperability, support for ODF and PDF within Sharepoint and possibilities for Sharepoint online as part of Microsoft’s long term cloud computing strategy.

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Lawrence was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk thoughtfully about what his team is doing. Many thanks!

June 12, 2008  6:08 PM

What is Social Sites 2.0? Newsgator enhances Sharepoint’s social computing utility for the enterprise.

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Newsgator’s Social Sites 2.0 integrates with Sharepoint to create a Facebook-like environment on an enterprise’s intranet. The video embedded below features Brian Kellner, NewsGator’s Vice President of Products, demonstrating the interface that the software adds to existing Sharepoint functionality.

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Newsgator’s software was part of presentation by Lockheed-Martin on the results of its own 18-month project. “Project Unity” combined Google’s Enterprise Search Appliance (ESA), Newsgator’s Enterprise Server and Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS). Newsgator powers their feed management and reading experience. I’ll be writing about Unity in a future post.

You can hear more about Social Sites 2.0 from Brian in this Social Sites 2.0 podcast. (MP3)

June 11, 2008  3:56 PM

Video: What is Intellipedia? Burke and Dennehy explain how wikis are being used at the CIA

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Sometimes celebrity is all about context. Stars of film, sport and stage may be instantly recognized and celebrated on the street. Other notables may fly under the radar — often intentionally so. Here at Enterprise 2.0, however, the “Intellipedia Evangelist” and “Intellipedia Doyen” have received rockstar treatment ever since their presentation this morning. Thanks to help from Alex Dunne, I’ve embedded their presentation above.

Ivy has blogged about Intellipedia before, nearly a year ago. Since then, the agencies have been making steady progress in exploring the potential for wikis and blogs internally and using them for information sharing, discussion, surfacing subject matter experts and deciphering the intelligence puzzle embedded in the massive amount of monitored noise. The question of adoption or barriers around older generations turned out not to be at issue. It’s not an age problem at all — the number one contributor at the CIA is 69 with 40 years of exp. Young people conform to a given culture quickly; it’s really about how the tools are presented and valued. Getting the first couple of edits made is the most important thing to novice users, given the need for a low barrier to adoption. One of the first projects at Intellipedia was an acronym list, in fact, which was a perfect fit for those “novices” and an invaluable tool for new employees that needed to decipher internal jargon.

I may be able to get an video with the two later, though given some concerns about too much exposure from their press office, we’ll see. When I met with both men in person this afternoon, along with a project manager from the NSA, each offered more insight into the cultural barriers inherent in opening up intelligence sharing through wikis at the agency. Given that national security, highly classified information, sources and methods could all be exposed, there are plenty of relevant concerns. That being said, Intellipedia was created in the aftermath of 9/11, when the relationships, structure, connections and methodology employed by the nation’s intelligence agencies were being reexamined at a fundamental level. The inspiration for the project sprung from seeing the style of information sharing and collaboration engendered and enabled by wikis, particularly in the history and discussion pages. Now, facts and analysis may be shared, vetted, sourced and debated internally, with a focus on discovery instead of control. Notably, the suite of social computing tools that are being used are distributed throughout the sixteen different intelligence agencies. Where analysts once might have used email and slides to share knowledge, now they can move their insights ont othe platform. Agents in Iraq can (and do) edit and collaborate in real-time with great effect with the distributed global intelligence community, posting videos, documents and commentary. Simply replacing Powerpoint with a wiki turns out to an incredibly powerful tool.

There are some crucial differences between Intellipedia and Wikipedia, the world’s most famous wiki. At Intellipedia, contributors must always be identified and operate from an attributable point of view, vs. Wikipedia’s famous neutral point of view (NPOV). At Wikipedia, the bulks of the edits tend to be made by a core group of editors, vs contributions by many from the intelligence community. And, obviously, the discussions and facts cited are highly classified and secure.

Sean and Don also presented 3 core principles of social software for enterprise users that everyone would do well to consider:

1. Work at broadest audience possible
2. Think topically, not organizationally
3. Replace existing business processes

I should note that there have been some rumors flying around the conference that the famous CIA World Factbook might be made into a wiki; unfortunately, this speculation was dashed as just that. Just goes to show — it’s hard to get good intelligence unless you go right to the source.

June 10, 2008  12:16 PM

What is enterprise 2.0? Cloud computing proponents mix with social software vendors in Boston.

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The question of creating an agreed upon definition for enterprise 2.0 continues to come up here on the Boston waterfront, as hundreds of software executives, CIOs, software vendors, media and curious technologists mix and explore the latest in enterprise collaboration technologies at Enterprise 2.0. Zack Church and I collaborated last month to formulate this:

Enterprise 2.0 is the strategic integration of Web 2.0 technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes. Enterprise 2.0 implementations generally use a combination of social software and collaborative technologies like blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, social networking and wikis. Most enterprise 2.0 technologies, whether homegrown, free or purchased, emphasize employee, partner and consumer collaboration. Such technologies may be in-house or Web-based. Companies using YouTube for vlogging or a private Facebook group as a modified intranet, for instance, are implementing a form of enterprise 2.0.

The conference organizers have formulated the following definition, loosely based upon Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAffee’s definition for enterprise 2.0:

Enterprise 2.0 is the term for the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email. It provides business managers with access to the right information at the right time through a web of inter-connected applications, services and devices. Enterprise 2.0 makes accessible the collective intelligence of many, translating to a huge competitive advantage in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility.

So what’s the story? Buzzword akin to Web 2.0 or something “real?”

In a session exploring the state of Enterprise 2.0, however, Dion Hinchliffe offered up one of the best, most succinct definitions to date that moves beyond the specifics to a more overarching purpose:

Enterprise/Web 2.0 is made up of “networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects.” — Tim O’Reilly.

In this case, a network effect is “When a good or service has more value the more that other people have it too.” (Wikipedia)

Here at the conference, over 60 different vendors are demonstrated different kinds of communication and productivity software that creates such network effects by helping workers to collaborate more easily, efficiently and socially. We’ll be posting videos, articles, interviews and other content over the next two days, as long as the wifi allows. Livestreaming has been balky, due to heavy network use, but you can check in on WhatIs.com’s live conference coverage of Enterprise 2.0 at uStream.com to see if we’re online. Check back here for more coverage on cloud computing, Dan Bricklin on SocialText’s new social spreadsheet or demonstrations of new social software like Newsgator’s Social Sites 2.0, a plugin that turns MSFT Sharepoint Server into a Facebook-like environment.

If you’re at the conference floor and would like to demonstrate your software or talk about enterprise 2.0 and social software, feel free to email me at ahoward@techtarget.com or send me a tweet at @digiphile on Twitter.

June 10, 2008  11:26 AM

What is a social spreadsheet? Dan Bricklin and SocialText combine wikis with workspaces at Enterprise 2.0.

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Ross Mayfield, founder of SocialText, a maker of enterprise wiki software, announced the launch of a new social spreadsheet at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. In his presentation to a packed hall of technology executives, developers, media and social media mavens, Mayfield first addressed the state of Enterprise 2.0 before asking a simple question:

How can you work with structured data in an unstructured way?

He noted that the killer app of the PC generation that came of age in the 1980s was the spreadsheet, pioneered by Dan Bricklin in the form of VisiCalc. That app was what led many early adopters to buy an Apple and tap into the productivity gains brokered by the IT revolution.

Spreadsheets are now used for communication, lists, tables and two-dimensional layout. Mayfield asserted that they’re the most common database on the planet.

Workers collaborated originally by using sneakernet and floppy disks to share spreadsheets.

Now, we play “email volleyball with attachments” — a descriptive and all too accurate summation of how files ping pong around a network, introducing version control issues, 90% error rates. As Ross sees it, reverse engineering a spreadsheet on a web page misses the potential.

For the past two years, Socialtext has been working with Dan Bricklin to combine the usability and collaborative power of a wiki with the organization and flexibility of a spreadsheet. Meet the social spreadsheet, a “multi-user wiki-based spreadsheet program that simplifies version control, reduces errors and increases productivity.”

The software is able to cross organizational, structural, geographical and temporal boundaries. In the short video below, (available on Viddler for sharing or on YouTube), Dan Bricklin explains what a social spreadsheet is, how it works, how he was involved in the project and what users can expect from the software.

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The social spreadsheet is open sourced and will be used in XOs for the One Laptop Per Child project worldwide, providing access to a quintessential IT tool for farmers, village merchants, businessmen, teachers and thousands of other individuals in the developing world.

Thanks again to Dan Bricklin for taking the time to talk to WhatIs.com.

June 5, 2008  10:12 AM

Video: What is cloud computing?

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Sure, WhatIs.com has a definition for cloud computing. And our director has posted one of the best explanations of cloud computing you’re likely to find anywhere. That being said, it’s always useful to hear more takes on any given topic.  Joyent Software sent a representative to the Web 2.0 Expo and asked an eminent collection of bloggers, journalists and other technology pundits to explain cloud computing on camera by asking each of them the same question:“What is Cloud Computing?”

Since that’s right up our alley, I wanted to share the video. Here’s the result:

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Appearing are Tim O’Reilly, Dan Farber, Matt Mullenweg, Jay Cross, Brian Solis, Kevin Marks, Steve Gillmor, Jeremy Tanner, Maggie Fox, Tom McGovern, Sam Lawrence, Stowe Boyd, David Tebbutt, Dave McClure, Chris Carfi, Vamshi Krishna and Rod Boothby.

May 28, 2008  2:10 PM

Drop.io: Free, online file sharing made simple, easy and anonymous

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Do you need a simple way to post and share large files on the Web temporarily?

Is sending an attachment over email a bad option, for whatever reason?

You could try Amazon S3 or FileURLs, both of which offer the ability to transfer files around. You could use the tried and true method of posting to a server and FTP client. You could even set up a BitTorrent tranfer between machines.

Or you could check out Drop.io. Launched in November of 2007, this New York City-based storage-as-a-service provider makes storing and sharing files anonymously a breeze. Allen Stern covered the launch of the Drop.io alpha for Center Networks.

You don’t need to register or sign up for an account. Drop.io allows a user to create a “drop” — a dedicated storage space, with all of two clicks. Basic drops are free and include 100MB of storage space.

Here’s how it works:

You creates a drop URL with a unique name more than seven characters long.

You upload a file to it and sets an expiration time (1 day to 1 year) for when it will be deleted, along with passwords for access and administration.

You then can choose what level of access (read, read/write, read/write/delete) any non-admin users will have.

Once you’ve created a drop folder, you can continue to add files and notes to it over the Web, cellphone, email, SMS or even fax.

Each drop also has a dedicated phone extension that allow you to call in and record voice messages that are then added to the drop.

Drop.io isn’t indexed by Google or other search engines, so your data will remain as private as your friends and clients are with the access information.

Drop.io is, in fact, completely anonymous, other than the fact that it tracks your IP address to address legal requirements or tersm of service violations

The service doesn’t require you to give your email address or create a permanent account or profile. Once the drop expires, so does everything related to it.

Just any time you’re uploading large files, there can be freezes or time outs if your upstream connection isn’t all it could be, as David Weinberger noted when he tried it out. I didn’t have any issues when I dropped a screencast for a colleague onto the service.

Drop.io has another cool feature: an RSS feed created for the drop. As a fan of RSS, this is a snazzy feature that instantly opens up new means of collaboration and distribution.

If you post an audio or video file into a drop, bingo: instant podcast, complete with a player. Remember: You can also leave voice messages on a given drop, so this is about as easy a podcasting method as you’ll find.

As Lifehacker pointed out, Drop.io features free, simple faxing. Other folks can send faxes to your dedicated number, where the document are converted into a PDF and syndicated to any portable device that can handle that format. You’ll need to send an automatically generated cover sheet to the sender to ensure proper conversion. Conversely, you can upload a document to Drop.io, enter a destination fax number and click “Fax” to send.

There’s even a way to embed the Drop.io widget in a Web page or wiki, which allows visitors to *send* you files. Password protection is included if you’re leery of malware (an excellent idea, in this writer’s opinion).

Your friends, colleagues and clients can also post to the drop simply by emailing a file to it, though given that the service specifically works *around* sending large files through email servers, this is probably best kept to smaller bits and bytes of content. Just address the message to yourdropname@drop.io.

Read the Drop.io FAQ for more information or check out the brief tutorial.

Watch a video interview with the founders of Drop.io, Sam Lessin and Darshan Somashekar, from CenterNetworks.
Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur also had Sam and Darshan on the 46th episode of the Net@Night netcast.
[Listen to the MP3]

The service isn’t perfect: As Dave Winer and Michael Arrington both noted, files posted to Drop.io are not added as an enclosure to the RSS feed, which means you’ll have to go back to the service to retrieve the media.

That being said, I’m an instant fan — and I’m far from alone. The following is just a sample of the positive reviews for drop.io out there:

Download Squad: Share files with Drop.io

AppScout: Drop.io simplifies file sharing and uploading

HackZine: Drop.io is simple, anonymous file sharing

Drape Stakes: Drop.io’s file sharing with RSS = endless possibilities

Andy Piper: Sharing large files with Drop.io

One Minute Tips: Drop.io is the Swiss Army knife of transfer

May 22, 2008  4:00 PM

Observing Memorial Day: How to celebrate the fallen online

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Next Monday is Memorial Day. During the federal holiday, most U.S.-based workers will take the time to be with family, pay their respects to fallen soldiers and family members and celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer.

Last year , Edward Rothstein suggested in the New York Times that on Memorial Day, consider turning off the computer and firing up the barbecue.

Unfortunately for sysops, network admins, webmasters and anyone else tasked with maintaining mission-critical systems or guaranteeing 99.99% uptime for an online service or ebusiness, the Internet won’t pause to pay its respects.

[Image Credit: NASA, via FlipSideShow.com]

If you’re stuck in the server room or need to catch up on help desk tickets, here’s a short list of places to pay your respects.

You can find more information about official observation of the holiday at USMemorialDay.org.

The History Channel’s Memorial Day website features videos, battle maps and a forum for veterans. According to this article from K.C. Jones, the interactive site “includes information about conflicts ranging from the American Revolution to the current war in Iraq, a span of time in which an estimated 1.4 million U.S. soldiers have lost their lives.”

If you’re an teacher or parent interested in educating your students more about the holiday, Education-World.com has a list of 5 Lessons for Teaching About Memorial Day.

USVets.tv will have a live webcast of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at 1 PM EST.

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