Using Web 2.0 to Track a Political Crisis

My gut tells me that the latest round in the Georgian-Russian crisis is going to get ugly.

CNN’s “Russian Tanks Rolling into Georgian Breakaway” shows one thing: our old friend Vladimir Putin feels free to call the shots.

Twitter alerts can only get you so far, in following a crisis.  Check out these first attempts: this Twitter search or this one, or this Live News feed.  You can RSS any of these by the way.

I’m working on several Popfly-designed orchestrations of alerts and newsfeeds to keep me updated on the latest news from South Ossetia, incorporating crowd-sourced information as much as I can. 

Interfax Screenshot

I’m also using my bilingual browser to surf some Russian sites.  I won’t neglect the Georgian ones as well, as soon as I find them; many have been reported to be the victims of curiously timed distributed denial of service (see the precursor to this action from two weeks ago, “Georgian President’s Website Falls Under DDOS Attack“).  Click the images to the right to see some bilingual-surfing examples. One is the official Interfax Russian news agency’s reporting, showing the Russian side of the story (English machine translation on the bottom of the horizontally split screen).  The other is the view from Pravda, still the voice of the Russian Communist Party, and shows that in this incident they’re supporting the Medvedev-Putin policy. In the Pravda case, I changed the setting of the IE machine translation plug-in to view the two versions side-by-side, with English on the right-hand side.

Pravda Screenshot

Pravda Screenshot


I’ve also been inspired by some of the thoughts Helen Thompson raises in her AFCEA Signal blog this week on info overload (“Incoming: The Patterns of Data Management“).

Thank goodness I kept my clearances when I left government last December.  I’m going to get to a computer with JWICS access and check out one of CIA’s newest services, “Samizdat,” as described in the recent CIO magazine profile of CIA’s new IT:

The CIA also boasts of grassroots Web-driven efforts that are sprouting up inside the intel community. One such effort is called Samizdat (which is a Russian word for self-publishing) and is a collaboration among the intelligence community analysts who follow Russian affairs that the CIA funded and provides the networking capabilities. The website incorporates Web 2.0 technologies, like blogs and wikis, breaking news intel and video.”

“[Ken] Westbrook notes that the idea bubbled up from the analysts themselves and was funded from a special CIA budget for just such a thing, and the project moved quickly by using agile development methods. ‘We put the analysts in a room with the developers to work this out,’ he says.”

My first post-Cold-War visit inside an intelligence agency was in late September 2001 at the Office of Naval Intelligence (I’d had a couple of earlier episodes in the 1980s).  One of the senior old-hand ONI analysts I met then, let’s call him “Chris,” had spent decades specializing in following the Soviet Navy before the old USSR dissolved, just as I had once been a Soviet foreign-policy analyst for OSD. Chris explained to me the tremendous decline in the numbers of analysts following Soviet/Russian affairs since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  They’d either retired, been RIF’d, or been “retrained” to do something completely different.

I suspect we may have to retrain the retrained…

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6 Responses

  1. Speaking of MT, Basis Technology is doing some great work in this area.

    And thanks for the link to the IE translator. I just installed it.


  2. And here, I was just following print media for my updates. Hence, yesterday I just found out about the two-week-old (?) cyberattacks on Georgian sites.


  3. Hi mute – can’t follow cyber stories in a non-cyber medium! Well, actually, if you do, you’re certainly more secure from an attack yourself 😉


  4. Good post. Very insightful. Wish there were even more referance links to similar sites on there. I actually found your blog from your recent interview. Keep up the good work!


  5. I’m flattered, thank you. I’ll do an update soon with some more cool tools & links out there, the array changes constantly which is phenomenal.


  6. […] I’m constantly trying to improve my own ability to follow real-time world events, whether through social media, advanced search technologies, or aggregation of multiple old/new information technologies. About this time last year, as the Georgian-Russian skirmishes were just kicking off, I wrote about keeping up with information on international events (”Using Web 2.0 to Track a Political Crisis“). […]


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