We at Defense Industry Daily maintain a Google Drive repository filled with more than 2,000 painstakingly selected, renamed and labeled PDF/Word/PPT/XLS files focused on major defense programs and budgets. We started opening it to a few readers in February 2013 and are now ready for another round of beta testing. Google’s recent changes make this even more attractive. Read below what this entails and how this works.
Why: What We Are Trying to Accomplish
Respondents to our latest reader survey indicated that one thing they like in our publication is the systematic linking to primary sources, especially official PDF reports. This got us thinking that opening our internal library of source documents to our subscribers might make sense, if we can save them the chore of squirreling PDFs.
How: A Hybrid Cloud/Desktop Tool to Make Mountains of Memos Manageable
DID started using Google Drive (overview) internally right after Google launched it in 2012. Though many other online storage tools predate it, including cloud/sync platforms from Dropbox to Microsoft Skydrive, some of Google Drive’s features make it uniquely suited for our purposes. Namely, Drive not only indexes the full text of Acrobat PDF and MS Office documents, but also scanned PDFs (these obnoxious files that did not go through a fully digital workflow, like most memos released after an FOIA request) through optical character recognition.
This means our repository can be browsed through its folders organized by source, and it is also searchable – as you would expect from Google – including with a number of advanced operators. (There is one boneheaded limitation: after an interface redesign last year, Google removed the ability to scope a search within just a specific folder, and so far they have not indicated a willingness to put it back.) A nifty new feature lets you preview (and in effect read) documents directly without opening Acrobat Reader. This is handy to quickly scan through report covers without downloading them.
But you are not limited to online browser-based use. This tool works not just in the cloud, but also comes with optional clients that allow replication in the Windows / Mac / iOS (iPhone+iPad) / Android environment of your choice for offline access. Offline access is also available in the browser with Google Chrome and Chrome OS devices. This means that our beta members can replicate a bunch of source material to their laptop or tablet with almost no effort: install an app, log in, select what you want to store locally, done. Once that is complete, you can access local copies of these files through a file system tool such as Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder.
What: Content Sources and Types
Most of the files we have collected come from the US Department of Defence, its agencies, and the services: OSD, ATL, CAPE, DOTE, DBB, DAU, Comptroller, IG, Army/Navy/Air Force… Then add other government agencies and congressional sources: GAO, CBO, CRS, authorization and appropriations bills… the list goes on. Outside of the US, we collect similar documents from a dozen other countries including the UK, Australia, and Canada (i.e. MoD/DND/DoD, NAO, parliamentary reviews…). On the industry side, we have 10-K SEC filings and annual reports from prime contractors, and additional relevant material.
Files follow a consistent naming convention that reflects the year of publication, topic, and source of each document. Given the internal discussions that effort entailed on the naming convention alone, just be thankful Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a communicable disease. File timestamps have been adjusted to reflect the original date of publication, allowing proper sorting by date (i.e. most recent or oldest files first).
Our goal though is not to have every report under the sun on Pentagon cafeteria menu changes or last year’s Halloween costume policy at Fort Belvoir: this is a highly curated environment that we use to speed and ease our own research. Our initial guess was that most consultants and analysts who need to research defense programs, budgets, or companies, waste precious time on their own report stash. (“National Defense Budget FY 2013 Green Book” – I swear I skipped the O&M spreadsheet centerfold and only read it for the articles!) Since we started the beta we heard from many people who confirmed they were indeed spending nontrivial time filing reference documents from third-parties.
As of March 2013 we have rounded up about 2,000 documents – for a total of more than 5 GBs – going back to the late 90’s, though there is a bias in favor of more recent material.
What Next: Join our Beta
If this sounds attractive, email us at [email protected] and state your job title, organization, and what you’d expect from such an offering. We’ll keep the beta restricted but free long enough that we can figure out to what extent this would be a good complement to our paid subscriptions, and what improvements may be necessary for use beyond our own team. Note that only bona fide government/industry participants and involved observers will be let in. Thank us too, as this is frankly too obsessively narrow for consumption by the general public. We do expect beta members to try the tool in good faith and take the time to send us feedback.
A few notes on the onboarding process:
- We send the initial invites to qualified beta testers via Google. They send you an email that points to something that in effect is just a preview page. The full functionality with search is available from https://drive.google.com/ to invited users. Our folder, which after a spurt of creative inspiration we labeled “Defense”, is visible under “Shared with me.”
- You need to have a (free) Google account (e.g. a Gmail account) which is what you will use to log in (i.e. not your DII credentials if you are one of our paid subscribers).
- Some IT departments block Google applications for security or compliance purposes, or possibly so you don’t find out how bad their own stuff is.
- Recent additions are listed here and will in the future be listed in this (very experimental) RSS feed.
- Access is read-only for the time being. We may consider giving hand-picked users the ability to upload documents, were they to prove the appropriate level of anal retentiveness. Alternatively beta members should just tell us which documents we should add.