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Jun 11 2008   3:56PM GMT

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



Posted by: GuyPardon
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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.

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