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Our government has its own 'private' Wikipedia

August 11, 2008

by Mark Ollig

It is not available to the general public.

We can’t even access it on the Internet.

It is used by the United States intelligence community and other organizations related to national security.

The State Department has its own private wiki site called: “Diplopedia.”

Billed as being the “Encyclopedia of the United States Department of State,” the Diplopedia is a wiki running on an internal private government “Intranet” network called “OpenNet.” This network is inaccessible to those of us using the “normal” Internet.

A “wiki” can be defined as a type of web site which allows visitors to add, remove, and amend the available subject content. The wiki becomes an authoring collaboration tool which endeavors to present up-to-date and current information on specific subjects.

The wiki web site we are all familiar with is at http://www.wikipedia.org.

I have come to appreciate and will use Wikipedia to research a subject – although I still suggest the sources be checked when appropriate.

So if Diplopedia is not available to the general public, does this mean your overly-investigative columnist is writing about “above-top-secret” or “eyes-only” information here?

Those nice government folks wearing dark glasses and the “ear buds” have not shown up for me – just yet.

I was simply told Diplopedia does not contain any classified information; it’s just not available to you and me.

Well, that didn’t sit well with your humble columnist. Why am I not allowed to know what the government is doing with this . . . especially when it’s not even classified?

I did some research on Diplopedia and discovered my highly apprehensive and overly-charged emotions were unfounded.

Diplopedia was started in 2006 by the State Department and is used as a “reservoir” of contributed information by folks only from inside the government.

Diplopedia is a project of the “Office of eDiplomacy,” located in the Bureau of Information Resource Management within the Department of State.

One of the ways Diplopedia is used is when a U.S Ambassador is to meet with a foreign Head of State. Normally, information in the form of a memo is given to the Ambassador via an e-mail which probably has an autobiography attachment.

Stacie R. Hankins, a special assistant at the United States Embassy in Rome, said the memo is still sent, but “now they attach a link to the Diplopedia article” — Diplopedia being a wiki, is open to the contributions of all who work inside the State Department.

The US ambassador to Rome is Ronald P. Spogli. When he is meeting with a foreign diplomat, Ambassador Spogli will regularly read their biography on his Blackberry, which also includes Diplopedia wiki articles.

Information the ambassador receives from Diplopedia provides certain assurances of its credibility, as the information is written from a person within the State Department.

There are more than 4,400 Diplopedia articles which reflect the wide range of State Department’s concerns — popular articles include serious titles like “Foreign Affairs Professional Reading List” down to articles about “Building Passes.”

“It’s grass-roots technology in a top-down organization,” said Eric M. Johnson, who is the team lead for the Knowledge Management Action Team at the U.S. Department of State.

Mr. Johnson mentioned how Diplopedia has had impressive growth.

“There are 1,000 registered users, 650,000 total page views and lately 20,000 new page views a week,” Johnson said.

He also wanted to put those numbers in perspective: “...there are 1.8 million ‘cable messages’ a year within the department [and] 1.5 billion e-mail messages a year.”

Johnson also confirmed Diplopedia contains no classified information, but did say it is not available to the general public. “It is one of the most popular sites in the State Department, other than getting your pay information,” Mr. Johnson said.

“Not to resort to clichés, but it demonstrates the long tail effect,” Mr. Johnson said. “A lot of things are not things that you would put on a traditional web site. If someone directed a desk officer to create an article, it would not be about how to order lunch. That might seem trivial — but getting food into the main State Department building is not an easy task.”

I just love a State Department spokesperson with a sense of humor.

Much of this information comes from Eric M. Johnson’s public presentation about Diplopedia given at Wikipedia’s annual conference called “Wikimania,” which was recently held in Alexandria, Egypt.

For more information about Diplopedia, check out Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplopedia.

To view the video presentations from the 2008 Wikimania Conference, including Eric M. Johnson’s “Diplopedia: Wiki Culture in the U.S. Department of State” go to http://tinyurl.com/6l4gwr.

In this week’s online forum “Web Site of The Week,” I will highlight the 2008 Wikipedia conference and include web links, pictures and more. Be sure to check it out.