America’s military is a sprawling global bureaucracy that loves technology, gadgets, websites, and apps. But unlike most of the crowds lining up at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, military smartphone app and web users have very specific security needs. A booming cottage industry has risen up in the past few years, mostly fed by military contractors like Raytheon and BAE Systems, that creates online services for the needs of the American military.
The ironic thing is that many of these products closely replicate civilian products–it’s not too hard to see echoes of Instagram in a military photo-sharing site or hints of Wikipedia in large-scale internal Pentagon wikis. But due to the nature of contractor culture and specific security requirements, their usability varies wildly. Some military adaptations of civilian apps are wildly popular and show up everywhere; others are just interesting projects that never got off the ground or are still being developed.