Two alternative approaches

Card catalog, water cooler hope to connect the right people with the right information

The card catalog

Like a library’s card catalog, information indexes list metadata-based pointers to available information that might reside within and across several agencies.

Example: The Information Sharing Environment–Suspicious Activities Reporting system


  • Indexes provide a comprehensive overview of available information, even if some of it resides at different organizations.
  • Indexes protect security and privacy by only showing high-level information, not personal or classified details.
  • Organizations continue to store their information in local databases instead of uploading it to large data warehouses managed by another group.


  • Metadata tagging is time-consuming and prone to subjective descriptions by whoever creates the labels.
  • Any information that’s not indexed remains difficult to discover.
  • Indexes are used primarily for finished intelligence and text rather than evolving intelligence or information depicted graphically or spatially.

The water cooler

Traditional data-sharing model:

Push: Intelligence analysts, agency leaders and law enforcement officers don’t have a comprehensive way to know who might need to receive important new information.

Pull: Operatives, first responders and other homeland security officials might not know all the authoritative sources of critical information.

The problem: Information senders and receivers find one another in a haphazard fashion and can waste valuable time determining necessary clearances and authorizations.

Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs and other social-networking tools can allow ad hoc, real-time information sharing, just like those conversations around the office water cooler.

Examples: Intellipedia and A-Space


  • Such technologies connect diverse groups and potentially large numbers of participants who might not otherwise work together.
  • They are relatively quick and easy to launch and require minimal training for participants.
  • They excel at presenting new, quickly unfolding information.


  • Web 2.0 tools raise concerns about the completeness and timeliness of constantly changing information.
  • Unfinished intelligence might lack thorough evaluation by senior analysts.
  • Participation might include only a subset of possible contributors and might wane over time.

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

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