Friday, January 23, 2009

How Risky Is Your Social Network Activity? (Socialrisk)

Prof. Will McGill's students at Penn State's Information Scieinces and Technology/Security and Risk Analysis Program have done us all a real service.

They have taken a hard look at the risks associated with putting private data on social networks (such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace) and have developed a structured methodology for analyzing and assessing those risks.

SNAPR (the Social Network Action and Privacy Risk Methodology) -- as they call it -- is a free, online, step-by-step method for evaluating the risk associated with your social networking activities.

We have quite a few security investigators come through here each year and all of them have indicated tha they look at social network sites in putting together their background investigations.

Social network site do's and don'ts go well beyond job hunters looking for positions in the intelligence community, however. This well-designed and well-thought out student project goes a long way towards helping anyone who is trying to balance the risks and the rewards of social networking.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Visual Short Form Analytic Reports And Resources For Producing Them (Teaching Intelligence/Link List)

One of the exercises we routinely assign in our Intelligence Communications and Intelligence Writing And Presentation classes is a "visual" short form analytic report. The task here is to translate a primarily text-based report (in this case the classic "one-pager" or SFAR as it is known around here) into another primarily non-text-based medium (video, audio, interpretative dance...).

The fundamental intent of the exercise is to engage students' creativity and to get them to think about other -- primarily visual -- ways to produce an intelligence report. Decisionmakers have always wanted their intelligence packaged in ways that were most accessible to them (consider Kennedy's PICL or Reagan's videos of foreign leaders). In the future, however, they are going to expect it.
  • For more on this, see Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. For examples of how good design makes a real difference, check out some of the projects at the Art Center of LA.
It is our belief that analysts need to think about how to do this in a way that maintains the standards of a good, text-based intelligence product. It is fairly easy to abandon traditonal notions of objectivity and transparency, for example, in favor of a intelligence product that "sells" itself well when using some of these tools and techniques.

Why should analysts have to think about this? Don't most intel agencies have personnel tasked to do this kind of stuff? Maybe, but how many analysts today are required to make their own PowerPoint slides? Back when PowerPoint was new, a specialist made the slides and we analysts fed them the information. Today, everyone makes slides -- and many of them are awful. Grappling with these issues seems appropriate for students trying to better understand how to communicate the results of their analysis to the decisionmakers they support.

To get the students started, I point them towards a number of resources. The first are some general sites about visual thinking or visualizing data such as:

The History Of Visual Communication
Thinking Visually (slideshow of concepts)
The Periodic Table Of Visualizations
Visual Complexity (Examples of how to display data visually)
Information Aesthetics (the last three links are to excellent blogs that focus on visualization)
Eager Eyes
Flowing Data

I also point them towards a number of readily available but under-used tools (such as Windows Movie Maker which comes with every Microsoft Windows machine) as well as some of the more interesting and useful online tools I have run across or which have been used by other students:

Programmable Web (massive list of available tools)
Animoto (automated, sophisiticated slide show production)
Comiqs (See an example here)
Just Leap In (customizable, web-based virtual world)
Community Walk (Customizable mapping software based on Google Earth)
Dipity (amazing timeline generation product)
MapWing (Simple tool for virtual tours)
Issuu (Sleek online document viewer)

These are obviously just a few of the tools and sites available for this kind of project (Don't believe me? Just check out MakeUseOf's List of Tools...). Do not hesitate to add your favorites to the comments!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The President Is A Blogger! (

OK, maybe it is not the president, just the White House, but there is something there that has not been there before -- a blog!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Presidents (Part 44 Of A Continuning Series...)

A pretty sharp person sent me a link to the YouTube video below. Whether you like Obama or not, the concept behind the video is both simple and interesting.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Funnies: Star Wars -- By Someone Who Has Never Seen It (Vimeo via Neatorama)

Whether you like Star Wars or not, this 4 minute video (seen first on Neatorama) is pretty funny. What I want to know is where they found someone who had not seen Star Wars...

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.