Tag Archives: Intellipedia

Top 5 iRevolution Posts of 2008

Here are the five most popular posts of 2008 on iRevolution:

  1. The Past and Future of Crisis Mapping
  2. Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence
  3. SMS and Web 2.0 for Mumbai Early Warning
  4. Intellipedia for Humanitarian Warning/Response
  5. Tracking Genocide by Remote Sensing

Happy Holidays!

Patrick Philippe Meier

From Intellipedia, to Virtual Osocc to WikiWarning?

What can we in the humanitarian community learn from Intellipedia as described in my previous blog ?

Some thoughts:

  • Let go of our ego-centric tendencies for control
  • Decentralize user-generated content and access
  • Utilization of tagging, IM, online video posting
  • Use open source tools and make minimal modifications
  • Capture tacit and informal knowledge qualitatively via blogs and wikis
  • Keep user-interfaces simple and minimize use of sophisticated interfaces
  • Provide non-monetary incentives for information collection and sharing
  • Shift from quality control mindset to soap box approach

There are no doubt more insights to be gained from the Intellipedia project but do we have any parallel information management systems in the humanitarian community? The first one that comes to mind is Virtual Osocc:

There are currently 2,437 users. The site includes a bulletin board where discussions can take place vis-a-vis ongoing emergencies and/or issues. A photo library is also available as are sections on training and meetings. The site’s homepage points to breaking emergencies and ongoing crises. Users can subscribe to email and SMS alerts.

When I spoke with the team behind Virtual Osocc, I was surprised to learn that the project has received no official endorsement by any UN agencies. This is particularly telling since an indicator of success for humanitarian information systems is the size of the active user base. Other points worth mentioning from my conversations with the team since they relate directly to my previous blog on Intellipedia include:

  • Tensions between the UN and NGOs vis-vis information sharing is healthy since it keeps us honest;
  • Decision-making in disaster management is by consensus (so tools should be designed accordingly);
  • Our community is currently unable to communicate effectively with the beneficiaries themselves.

Another humanitarian information systems is of course ReliefWeb, which is very well known so I shan’t expand on the system here. I would just like to suggest that we think of ways to integrate more Web 2.0 tools into ReliefWeb; allowing a wiki and blogging space, for example. There’s also the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) manged out of the Joint Research Center (JRC) in Ispra, Italy. See my recent blog on the JRC’s satellite imagery change detection project here. The JRC is doing some phenomenal work and GDACS is an excellent reflection of this work. I will leave a more thorough overview of GDACS for a future blog entry.

Then there’s the new information system which was launched this past October 2007 in collaboration with the JRC. The system is a new web portal for leading situation centers including those at UN DPKO, the EU Council and NATO. The purpose of the new system is to facilitate the exchange and storage of unique and relevant information on emerging and ongoing crises and conflicts.The portal facilitates the exchange of unique documents including satellite images. Users can subscribe to specific email and SMS alerts. The system also include a Wiki mapping section. Needless to say, the new web portal is password protected and the user base limited to an elite few. This initiative may benefit from more Intellipedia think.

The issue that I find most pressing in all of this is the lack of two-communication (not to mention one-way) communication with beneficiaries. I find this gap upsetting. So I set up Wikiwarning some two years ago in the hope of finding the time, support and expertise to fully develop the concept and tool. Any takers?

My next blog will address the issue of intelligence for the stakeholders.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Intellipedia for Humanitarian Warning/Response?

I just attended at a talk at Harvard given by Intellipedia‘s developers . Intellipedia uses the same software and approach as Wikipedia does and includes a Wiki space, a blog space and a multimedia space called iVideo, the intel version of Youtube. Intellipedia also includes a tagging tool that closely resembles del.icio.us, an instant messaging functionality as well as RSS feeds. Most of the tools used by Intellipedia are open source and the 2-person team behind the initiative deliberately limit the modifications and new features they add to these tools in order to benefit from the rapidly innovating information economy. “We cannot keep up with the Internet otherwise,” one of the presenters commented. See my recent blog on Twitter Speed versus Government.

Intellipedia embraces the three core principles of social software in enterprise: work at the broadest audience possible; think topically, not organizationally; and replace existing business processes. During their presentation, the team emphasized that Intellipedia serves to capture the informal dynamics and knowledge generated within the intelligence community. The Web 2.0 platform is particularly useful when contradictory information surfaces. In the past, deconfliction of intelligence reports typically meant choosing one report over the other, thus losing valuable information (particularly when intelligence becomes highly politicized).

With Intellipedia, the debate is documented and allowed to continue. This sometimes leads to agreement and other times not. The salient point here is that all views are allowed to compete and evolve. This is like depicting the probable path of a hurricane using a cone shape icon. Initially, all future paths within this event horizon are likely, but ultimately, only one point will be hit, or real.

Intellipedia seeks to facilitate a similar process albeit with intelligence information. (Incidentally, the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Committee specifically documents any differences that arise during meetings). There is no final product within Intellipedia, the wiki and blog entries are all live and evolving. Interestingly, there have been several incidents when high level personnel within the intelligence community have requested that some pages on the wiki be removed since they were too sensitive. What is stunning however is that these sites were exact copies of pages on Wikipedia. More than 90% of intelligence information is collated from open sources.

The templates used by Intellipedia are kept deliberately simple in order emphasize the focus on information and knowledge rather than form and display. This not only helps build institutional memory over time, it provides a foundation upon which future intelligence can be based. For example, an analyst began posting information on the Beijing Olympics some two years ago and continued doing so on weekly basis. While no one was particularly interested in the topic at the time, the wiki on the Olympics is now particularly active. Intellipedia was also used to support the rescue operations during the California fires, which may suggest that government speed may not be as slow as blogged about here.

The Intellipedia platform itself gets some 6,000 hits/edits per day and a hundred new registered users everyday. Users are provided with incentives to contribute to the platform, e.g., an exceptional contribution award presented the CIA director and an Intellipedia shovel prize which is particularly popular. Mini contests are also held and contribution to Intellipedia is increasingly incorporated in work performance plans. The most active contributer to Intellipedia is a 69 year-old retired intelligence officer who has worked within the intelligence agency for 40 years. He still comes to work on weekends in order to write as much as he can about his experience and lessons learned.

On the handle: “I dig Intellipedia: It’s wiki wiki baby”

In concluding the presentation, the team shared that the hardest part of Intillepedia was encouraging users to let go of control; that there was no ownership as such within Intellipedia. So for example many users wanted their contribution to wikis to remain unchanged. The team was steadfast however, and encouraged those users to vent about their disagreements with the changing text on their own blogs. This is precisely what users are doing now when they feel outvoted on the wikis. These users subsequently receive many comments on their own blogs. “When you let go of control, you unleash creativity… People want to contribute, want to have a say, want to do it right, so let them.” Wisdom of the Wikis?

The next step in the Intellipedia project is to use or develop new tools to crawl or mine the Intellipedia space to extract knowledge. The team ended the presentation with the following video which received Wired’s Rave Award for 2006:

In my next blog entry, I will parallel Intellipedia with the ICTs used by the humanitarian community to collect, share and analyze information.

Patrick Philippe Meier