Diplomats take a shine to Wikipedia-like app

State Department employees are using Diplopedia, a new collaborative internal Web site, more often to share their expertise and experience with colleagues worldwide.

Diplopedia is similar in design and uses the same software as Wikipedia, which allows users to edit, update and contribute entries. State’s Office of eDiplomacy launched the wiki last September and there are now more than 1,400 active articles and 255 agency employees registered as editors, according to the program’s organizers. The site is housed on State’s sensitive but unclassified intranet and is accessible by all department employees.

“We wanted to become the online encyclopedia for foreign affairs information at the unclassified level,” said Bruce Burton, a senior adviser to the Office of eDiplomacy. “This would be a one-stop shop, if it develops as it should, that would be the same kind of go-to source of information that you find with Wikipedia.”

Burton, also a former Foreign Service officer, said he would like to see Diplopedia include background notes on all of the department’s Foreign Service posts.

“When you go through a Foreign Service career, you have a series of assignments and you usually retain an interest in someplace you’ve been and certainly have an interest in someplace you’d like to go, and this would be a way for people to contribute to that,” he said.

Like other wikis, Diplopedia articles are written mostly by people who have an expertise in the subject, and accuracy depends on the community of authorities using the site to correct any wrong information. Organizers also tout Diplopedia’s social-networking and collaborative benefits.

They caution that the online encyclopedia is not meant to be the authoritative source on any given subject. Other agencies have already approached the office to find out more information about Diplopedia, said Thomas Niblock Jr., director of the Office of eDiplomacy.

“As long as its accuracy approaches a certain point, then it’s as authoritative as many other sources,” Niblock said. “We’re not concerned about authoritativeness as much as we are concerned about utility — if it’s usable people will use it.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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