This week I’ve been absorbed by everything Wikileaks — not just the information that’s being revealed, but the behind the scenes technology, how the content is made available, and its impact on journalism.
Much of the Wikileaks data is said to come from SIPRNet and I was curious what sort of interface it had. Understandably, for something whose content is classified as secret, it’s hard to find much information. But from this definition on WorldLingo, it doesn’t sound like it’s anything special.
“Except for existing within a secure environment, the SIPRNet is virtually indistinguishable from the Internet to the user. Its chief visible difference is the domain name system, with almost all sites being under ‘.smil.mil’ or ‘.sgov.gov’ . Among its many features, computers cleared for SIPRNet access connect to the network via secure dial-up or LAN connections, access web pages written in standard HTML using a standard web browser, can upload and download files via FTP connections, and can send or receive email messages through SMTP services using any standard email client. All data transmitted on SIPRNet between secure facilities must be encrypted by approved NSA encryption systems. While the public Internet can be used to transmit encrypted SIPRNet packets (“SIPR over NIPR”), no access is permitted between the two networks.”
But I’m still super-curious how someone could, via the SIPRNet, connect to a site and download a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables. Is there a “download all” link somewhere on the US State Department’s SIPRNet site? It sounds like an interface in a bad science-fiction film 😉
The design of the Wikileaks site is pretty rough — just a basic repository of documents with limited tools to sort through it all. Perhaps this is due to their constraints — they’re trying to disseminate the content, not be the owner of it, while simultaneously trying to avoid server overloads and attacks. As a result, It’s really been up to others to sort, filter, and interpret the huge amount of content.
There have been a couple interesting posts showing the range of tools people have created to help make the data understandable — via visualizations and interactive search/sorting tools. The most comprehensive have been Information Aesthetics’ WikiLeaks Cable Gate: the Visualizations and the Infographics, Infographics News’ How media is visualizing the ‘Cablegate’, and datavisualization.ch’s Wikileaks US Embassy Cables.
While it seems most of the efforts to communicate the Wikileaks content has focused around visualizations, there have been are a couple interactive tools, too (see pics below). The most interesting have been a map/keyword search tool from The Guardian, a timeline of embassy dispatches from Spiegel Online, and a document navigation system from The New York Times. Sadly none of these interactive tools are particularly innovative or inspiring. There’s definitely room for improvement here.
As new media designers we talk a lot about the value of transparency and online media. There’s a broad concensus that news organizations, and the way they report and “do journalism,” is on the verge of radical change. I thought Emily Bell’s thoughtful post How Wikileaks has woken up journalism was an interesting view on this. But the design of how we share and communicate news and complex content still has a long way to go.