CIA uses wiki technology to share information

CIA officials said Tuesday the agency's Intellipedia project is gaining serious momentum but much work remains.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's Intellipedia project for information-sharing within the nation's intelligence community is still in the early adoption phase a couple years after its launch, but has become a brand name for an entire suite of related Web 2.0 technologies, two CIA officials involved with the effort said Tuesday.

Intellpedia's core is a wiki, built with the same software as Wikipedia. It resides on three different networks, designated unclassifed, secret and top-secret. Over the past couple of years, the initial project has grown to include an instant messaging client built with the Jabber platform, a tagging system similar to del.icio.us, RSS feeds, image galleries and even the CIA's version of YouTube.

The system is "agency-agnostic," noted Don Burke, "Intellipedia Doyen" at the CIA, who gave the update along with Sean Dennehy, the agency's Intellipedia evangelist.

The CIA wants the system reach a level where the entire U.S. intelligence community is contributing knowledge, the two said.

While there have been early successes, that goal is a long way off, they added.

Still, Intellipedia's registered user list has grown from 20,000 in July 2007 to 35,000 today. It now contains more than 200,000 pages of content, according to the CIA.

But selling the concept of sharing information in a milieu known for secrecy has been "a painful experience," marked by repeated confrontational briefings with skeptical CIA employees, Burke recalled: "This was far more of a cultural problem than a technical problem."

While Intellipedia serves a specialized need, the CIA representatives had general advice for enterprises that are thinking about implementing wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies.

"We all do things every day that are the equivalent of organizing and aggregating," and the idea is not to create additional processes, but migrate existing ones to these tools, Burke said.

"People say, 'I don't have time to edit Intellipedia with all the other things I'm doing.' ... We say, look at what you're doing now in e-mail and shared drives and start moving those practices to those tools," Dennehy added.

Companies should take small steps, Dennehy urged. One of the first Intellipedia projects revolved around creating a list of acronyms.

"It's simple, gets people who are uncomfortable with the tools past those first couple of edits. If you make those barriers small at the very beginning, they're more likely to adopt," he said.

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