How the Web Can Relieve Our Information Glut and Get Us Talking to Each Other
If Not E-mail, Then What?
If I had arrived in the IC two years ago to find no e-mail access, I would have been appalled. But in a few years, our new employees will think of e-mail as an outdated technology. They'll be asking: “Where's my blog?”
A blog lets ordinary computer users with average technical knowledge instantly publish on the Web. Since blogs came along two years ago, 9 million people have started their own, many of them at no cost. Most authors are just looking to keep friends and family updated without overloading their inboxes.
This nonintrusive publication method lets writers say what they really think. We all have that uncle who forwards every terrible joke he finds online. We usually groan when it shows up in our inbox. How dare he waste my time and hard-disk space with this? We victims of poor e-mail etiquette don’t want to be seen as the annoying uncle, so before we send e-mails, we self censor, taking into account our addressee's possible reaction: “Will he think I’m stupid? Will he delete this in disgust? Maybe I should remove this sentence.”
Definition: A blog (a contraction of “Web log”) is an online journal maintained by a single or multiple writers. Readers can respond to a blog entry with their own comments, which will then be visible to other readers as well, like a public chalkboard. Because blogs require so little technical knowledge, millions of people once hindered by a lack of know-how are now contributing to the Web instead of just reading it. Some of these previously unheard-of writers have become powerful voices in politics, media, and technology.”
A blog is different. It’s our own space. Readers have the option of viewing it every day or completely ignoring it, but whatever they do, we’re not necessarily liable for their reaction. We’re not telling them that they have to read it, so if they don’t like it, we aren’t to blame. This gives us freedom to speak our minds.
The IC desperately needs this kind of attitude. There are multiple cases in which it would have been useful for customers to hear analysts’ unfiltered opinions, which are often substantially diluted by the time they finally make it to Intelink.
Broadcasting a blog has another big advantage over a point-to-point e-mail conversation: It lets previously unknown people participate in the dialogue. After two years in the IC, I have probably met fewer than half of the dozens of people who share my analytical focus, mainly due to our poor directories and the scarcity of personal information on official products. If we all had our own homes on Intelink—blog sites—we would be much more visible to people trying to reach us.
And visitors to our blogs wouldn’t just read. Blogs allow readers to contribute to the discussion by adding their own comments to a writer’s posts. Do you have a question to which someone out there is bound to know the answer? Blog the question and wait for someone to come across it and post an answer. Do you have thoughts on an intelligence product? Write them down and let the rest of your community know what you think; then watch as your counterparts contribute their own opinions.
If the IC used blogs, analysts, collectors, and customers could hold impromptu discussions at any time, instead of having to schedule meetings weeks in advance. And when the time came for such meetings, those present would already have a solid foundation for discussion instead of having to spend time learning the names, roles, and interests of those involved. Intelink has the potential to be a place where groups of intelligence officers from around the world can speak freely and substantively on a daily basis. Such continuous, candid dialogue is the only way to forge relationships of trust in an industry where people are trained to be distrustful.