This has nothing to do with a California chip maker. Rather, it’s about a trip I recently took to a conference called Intelink, where the people gather who run one of the world’s biggest and most interesting intranets; the one that serves the community of U.S. Intelligence professionals.
There was nothing classified on display or on the agenda in any of the rooms they let me into (hey, I’m one of those commie pinko Canadians), but still, these people appreciate discretion and I respect that, thus I’ll stay away from talking about headcounts and locations and names of people and organizations; aside from saying that the intel community is much, much bigger than most people know, and just understanding the acronyms is the task of a lifetime.
I was there in my capacity as a search loudmouth to give a keynote on what they can and can’t expect from Search technology. Anyone who’s read my On Search series will not have been surprised, except for I talked for a while about the RSS/Atom/Syndication space and how that might change the search game. It occurs to me that I should add another chapter to On Search about that stuff.
In General · These are smart, dedicated people fighting with one hand tied behind their back. First off there’s the rigidity, in buying and executing, that goes with being in the public sector (indeed, in the military for quite a few of them). But it’s the security requirements that make things really tough.
Imagine if you were working in an environment where, because of the security-clearance process, it took you the best part of two years to bring someone into the system; and that a smart person you wanted to hire might well get kicked out of the process for reasons of lifestyle or personal history. Imagine if your intranet wasn’t allowed to be connected at all—in any way—to the Internet. Imagine an environment where securing access to certain classes of information isn’t a cost-benefit trade-off, it’s a near-absolute; there’s almost no increase in efficiency/effectiveness that can justify an even slight weakening in the data protection.
Search · The intel community has bought at least one installation of pretty well every search product that anyone’s ever built (I sold them one myself way back when). They have more information than you can imagine and their requirements for good fast search results are about war and peace and life and death.
For me, one of the neat things about the conference was the little trade show where basically every search vendor on the planet had a booth and I got to walk around and get a snapshot of what’s going on.
In the big picture, their experience is not that different from the rest of the world: things get faster and cleaner, you can invest billions in metadata and find the returns questionable, and the technology remains fundamentally lame in the areas of intelligence and natural-language.
Syndication · These guys are buying into RSS big-time. Like anyone who delivers information, they deliver a lot of it using Web technology, and a lot of their information is dynamic, and professional effectiveness for many people depends on soaking up a lot of it quickly without investing too much time.
I was amused to note that on one of the sub-intranets distinguished by being loaded with particularly ultra-secret stuff, they were offering RSS Bandit for the people to download and use.
They’ve also done something way cool with their Google appliance; one of the bright geeks there has set up a thing where you can subscribe to a search and get an RSS feed. Well, duh. Anyone could fix up one of those using the Google API, I wonder why Google isn’t supporting this already?
Envious · I’ve been reasonably happy with the way my career’s gone, but if I were going back to do it again, I’d seriously consider trying to get into the intelligence business. I could seriously spend a few decades working on technology for pulling important little facts out of oceans of raw data and never, never get bored.