Sunday, December 3, 2006

NY Times Magazine: Spies and social software

The New York Times Magazine takes an indepth look at the U.S. intelligence agencies‘ efforts to modernize their information systems: Open Source Spying. The emphasis is on wikis, blogs, syndication feeds, and enterprise chat. All social networking technologies. It‘s good stuff, and a classic read on old bureaucratic IT versus the more nimble and agile newcomers.

Today’s spies exist in an age of constant information exchange, in which everyday citizens swap news, dial up satellite pictures of their houses and collaborate on distant Web sites with strangers. As John Arquilla told me, if the spies do not join the rest of the world, they risk growing to resemble the rigid, unchanging bureaucracy that they once confronted during the cold war. “Fifteen years ago we were fighting the Soviet Union,” he said. “Who knew it would be replicated today in the intelligence community?”

You could substitute all sorts of groups for “intelligence community“ in this quote and it would still work. Our old institutions are struggling with their role in this new era. Most of them will never make the transition. If our legislators had a clue they‘d be shuttering many of the government institutions who are supposed to be in the “knowledge” business.

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