State Department unveils social networking site

Initiative is the department's latest effort to promote international dialogue among young people.

The State Department has launched a social networking site to promote international exchanges and enhance the United States' image abroad, particularly among young people.

ExchangesConnect, administered by the department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, includes blog postings, photos and videos from users across the world interested in trading information on culture, language and global education programs. A newly designed Web site,, is a portal to the social network and the agency's Facebook page. ExchangesConnect is free, but requires users to fill out a brief online registration.

"It's a natural expansion of our exchange programs," said Goli Ameri, outgoing assistant secretary of education and cultural affairs, in an interview with Government Executive.

The social networking site has been up and running for a few weeks, but the department officially unveiled the initiative on Monday at the National Press Club, along with a video contest aimed at boosting public diplomacy and sponsored by the Adobe Foundation. State is encouraging members of ExchangesConnect to submit by Jan. 26, 2009, a three-minute video on the contest's theme, "My Culture + Your Culture = ? Share Your Story." The bureau will select two foreign and two American winners who will receive a two-week all expenses paid trip to the United States and an overseas destination, respectively.

State has tried to take advantage of technology and the rise in multimedia communications to open itself to Americans and foreigners. The department has a blog, DipNote, featuring musings from top-level officials on policies and its mission. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also plans to develop a program to teach the world English for free. The agency published a notice in the Nov. 17 Federal Register seeking a partner in the private sector to create the necessary technology for an online English language learning and literacy series for economically disadvantaged youths outside the United States.

Ameri, confirmed as assistant secretary in March 2008, brought ties to the high-tech world to her government post. Before her stint in the Bush administration, Ameri ran eTinium, a consulting and market research firm specializing in the telecommunications industry. She praised State's career workforce for its passion and dedication. "This is not some regular, old government job," she said. "People truly want to be in this bureau. I am impressed by the caliber of people."