During a typical workday, Intellipedia—the Intelligence Community’s version of Wikipedia—receives about 5,000 contributions. The third anniversary of Intellipedia on Friday, April 17, was anything but a typical workday. Intellipedia users broke the record for contributions in one day with 15,046 edits.
The Challenge is Issued
Sean Dennehy and Don Burke—two CIA officers who helped spearhead the Intellipedia effort—wanted Intellipedia’s third anniversary celebration to be special. Last year, in honor of its second anniversary, Intellipedia users organized a party with cake and refreshments at CIA Headquarters.
“The real reason that I wasn’t enthused about last year’s party was simple: walls,” Dennehy posted to his Intelink blog. “Everything that we’re trying to do with Intellipedia and the broader social software effort is to break down barriers to information sharing and capturing knowledge, yet there we were, celebrating our achievement while confined to a small office in a hidden corner of CIA Headquarters.”
In an effort to break free from the constraints of physical location and celebrate Intellipedia’s successes in locations around the world, another Intellipedian came up with the idea to rally Intellipedia users to achieve something that had never been done before: 15,000 contributions to Intellipedia in one day.
“We wanted everyone to be able to participate in the challenge, not just those who could make it to CIA Headquarters or the Washington, D.C. metro area,” said Burke. “And what better way to celebrate than to make Intellipedia a better place.”
The challenge was well-publicized and Intellipedia users were encouraged to think about the projects that they might want to start or contribute to. Intellipedia leaders set up a page where users could share their project ideas or volunteer to help with other projects.
The Big Day
The day of Intellipedia’s third anniversary dawned with great expectations. More than 600 people from around the globe participated in the challenge. The goal of 15,000 contributions was reached with a half an hour to spare.
“This is exactly what I meant when I said that Intellipedia knows no geographic boundary,” Dennehy said.
Even when a server threatened to give out between noon and 1 p.m.—a peak hour during the day for Intellipedia—the day’s festivities were a bona fide success.
The reason Intellipedia has achieved such success thus far is because of its grassroots initiatives.
“Up until now, Intellipedia has been a quiet revolution,” Dennehy said. “At the grassroots level, Intellipedia users have added more and more edits, which adds value. All of this churns and churns in the background until it becomes something that is really valuable. I think that’s where we are now.”
As Intellipedia continues to grow, its founders believe its future looks bright. Burke and Dennehy have one specific goal in mind for Intellipedia’s fourth anniversary: an owner.
“We’re at the point where we need to cross the chasm from a grassroots effort to something that is bureaucratized,” Burke said.
The Birth of Intellipedia
The inspiration for Intellipedia came from a 2004 award-winning paper by CIA employee Calvin Andrus entitled, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community.” The paper detailed the need for the IC to adapt to the increased pace of the world.
In 2005, Dennehy stepped up to lead the initial Intellipedia effort.
Intellipedia was formally announced to the Intelligence Community in April 2006. And while the CIA has been a vocal advocate of these capabilities, the CIA is only one of the many U.S. intelligence, diplomatic, and military organizations that use Intellipedia on top secret, secret, and unclassified networks.
Intellipedians agree that more than analysis is needed in today’s Intelligence Community.
“In addition to analysis, we need people who can create an ecosystem of knowledge that is not specifically about answering tomorrow’s questions, but creating a world of information that is connected,” Burke said.
“There’s too much emphasis on the analytical report,” Dennehy said. “It’s important to look at how we get to the finished intelligence. Intellipedia does this by making the process more social and creating a dialogue that’s transparent.”
Intellipedia has had a remarkable three years. Growing from a grassroots initiative to more than 15,000 edits in a single day, Intellipedia is one of the first places the Intelligence Community goes for information. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities that Intellipedia’s fourth year might bring.