You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Wikileaks' Afghan War Logs: The Crowdscouring Begins

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, July 26 2010

Several months ago, Julian Assange cannily described the paradox on releasing raw data online. "It's counterintuitive," he said to ComputerWorld. "You'd think the bigger and more important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but that's absolutely not true. It's about supply and demand. Zero supply equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero."

This problem also troubled Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, back in June when I spoke with him and Assange at Personal Democracy Forum. While Ellsberg has said that today he would have just scanned the papers and posted them online, he admitted that giving them to the New York Times assured a greater impact, because their editors and reporters had time to put them into context, and show the contradictions between the public statements of American war leaders and their private, secret evaluation of events in Vietnam.

By giving three major news organizations--The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel--advance access to the Afghanistan "War Logs" archive, Assange and Wikileaks bought some assurance that the document dump would gain worldwide attention. But the question now is whether the proverbial "crowd" is really going to jump in and scour the documents to add further meaning beyond the day one stories provided by those three papers.

At the moment, the Wikipedia page for the War Logs is the top most edited page in the last 24 hours, with at least sixty unique editors making changes and additions, according to Wikirage. The Guardian is also smartly live-blogging the continuing response to the leaks and stories, here. Other hubs for distributed reporting, or what I like to think of as crowd-scouring, like TalkingPointsMemo or ProPublica, do not appear to be jumping to the task, though of course that may change.

One problem that will probably hinder that process is the lack of a ready-to-use platform for organized tagging and sifting of big data dumps. The Guardian did build such a platform to engage its readership in sifting through hundreds of thousands of Parliament's expense records; ultimately 27,000 people pitched in. Something similar would be useful now.