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21 April 2007

Watching the wiki grow

The following fascinating video illustrates the growth of the Wikipedia entry on the VT shooting incident over the first 12 hours.

The intelligence community still has not entirely come to terms with the impact of new tools such as the wiki, although it is making great progress in at least some forms through early adopters and the younger generation which natively embraces such technologies. We have however been disappointed by other experiments in wikified intelligence production, as much as we continue to believe that the medium offers promise in creating better options for virtual distributed collaboration in analysis and authoring.

We strongly suspect that one of the reasons Intellipedia works well is because it is essentially duplicates the functions of the now vanishing “shelfware” products and mentoring processes that previously functioned to tie together new analysts and their more experienced counterparts on specific accounts and targets. Both of these essential functions have been largely overtaken by the recent upheaval in the community, aggravated by factors including the state of permanently high operations tempo, the creation of new players of interest who lack other key connectivity to the established community, and the major demographic changes within many agencies.

Other wiki applications are not yet so clear. There have been strong arguments, and some moderate demonstrations, that the tool can play a role in replacing smartbooks, watch logs, and other “pass-down” shared documents, particularly in environments where there may be significant temporal distance between analyst shifts. Wikis have also reportedly been experimented with in coordination of exercise events, and would seem to offer promise in presenting a shared “reality” framework for simulated material.

The VT incident above highlights the potential utility of the wiki in incident management and shared situational awareness roles. The increasing proliferation of intelligence operations and fusion centers throughout the community has created unique analytic tradecraft requirements for watch officers and analysts - who typically are only taught skills and TTPs developed by their cubicle-bound counterparts.

The wiki as a tool may offer new options for the evolution of more unique tradecraft better suited to rapid analysis under crisis conditions. Interestingly, one of the first areas in which wikis might be used to contribute to such a new subspecies of the tradecraft may be in enabling structured argumentation and analysis between multiple contributors in a more explicit and transparent fashion. (Whether structured analysis methods are best suited for the operations center environment is another question entirely, but a question that has seen at least some initial attempts to examine in a systematic manner. See the JMIC Occasional Paper “Intelligence Analysis in Theater Joint Intelligence Centers: An Experiment in Applying Structured Methods”.)

Not all problems can be solved by the same kind of hammer. However, we are fascinated to watch the results of the continued trial and error of beating new objects against the wall. At least it saves the pain we would encounter when the only options we had was the pounding of our heads.

h/t to Bitter

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