DIA embraces Web 2.0

Wikis, RSS feeds and mashups are among the favored tools of information sharing

The Defense Intelligence Agency took a cue from popular Web sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia when it built Web 2.0 tools to facilitate faster and better collaboration among its analysts.

DIA began experimenting with beta versions of open-source Web 2.0 software on its classified networks in 2004. The first such effort was a wiki — a Web site that let users add, remove, edit and change content. Since then, DIA has ben using multiple wikis and other social-networking and collaboration tools.

“The goal is to improve the ability of our Directorate for Information Management and our chief information officer to provide information that our analysts and warfighters need in a timelier and more usable fashion,” said Lewis Shepherd, chief of DIA’s requirements and research group and senior technical officer. Web 2.0 applications improve the collaborative capability of analysts, he said.

Web 2.0 refers to a set of Internet tools such as wikis, RSS feeds and mashups —as and to the behind-the-scenes functions that enable them. The experience they provide is more dynamic and interactive than earlier Internet experiences, experts say.

“We are looking at wiki technologies, tweaking them and applying our businesses processes to them,” said Brenda Smith, DIA’s knowledge management division chief, who spoke at a recent event sponsored by Women in Technology.

RSS is a format for syndicating the content of Web sites. A mashup integrates several Web applications.

DIA’s first wiki project does for the intelligence community what Wikipedia does for the general public. It provides an encyclopedia that reflects the diverse expertise of intelligence community analysts and specialists. It’s called Intellipedia.

DIA analysts “can author and edit content at any time in a very user-friendly way,” Shepherd said. Dale Meyerrose, associate director of National Intelligence and chief information officer, maintains Intellipedia on behalf of the entire intelligence community.

“Intellipedia is the best example of a successful widespread enterprise implementation of Web 2.0,” said Anthony Bradley, a research analyst at Gartner.

A wiki known as the Defense Intelligence Integration Guide (DIIG) is open to government engineers, contractors and support staff members.  Contractors, however, are not authorized to alter the content, Shepherd said. “We now have multiple wikis all commonly searchable and some maintained by communities of interest,” he said. 

DIA also relies heavily on RSS feeds, Shepherd said. RSS feeds relay the latest news on a selected topic and notify users of recent changes to a wiki or other content site. RSS feeds are created from specific data sources, and databases receive automatic updates from those sources.

Beyond RSS feeds, the military intelligence community is developing mashups using a Web 2.0 technology that collects data from various sources and presents it in multiple ways.

Creators of mashups present information visually by combining human intelligence feeds with mapping and Global Positioning System data, Bradley said. Mashups are useful way of creating a picture of a common operating environment.

Shepherd said DIA is using mashups to display data provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from Google Earth and Arc GIS Explorer, a service from ESRI. The agency has created mashups for intelligence briefings and built several portal-like applications and user interfaces that let users add mashup visualizations to their own personalized Web environment. n

Buxbaum is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.
DIA Screens Web 2.0 toolsDefense Intelligence Agency officials said they take precautions before letting loose any applications created with open source Web 2.0 tools, especially on classified networks. The agency has what officials say is a sophisticated accrediting system that lets programmers quickly vet those applications. 

DIA’s rapid prototyping environment, known as Lax X, keeps unaccredited software safely separate from live data systems, said Lewis Shepherd, chief of DIA’s requirements and research group.

“Lax X is the rapid prototyping environment where we post beta versions of software that are not quite ready for prime time,” he said. “The applications are fully vetted and tested without causing any damage to data or to the infrastructure.”

— Peter Buxbaum

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