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December 03, 2006

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Page 6 online of a 10 page article:

While the C.I.A. and Fingar’s office set up their wiki, Meyerrose’s office was dabbling in the other half of Andrus’s equation. In July, his staff decided to create a test blog to collect intelligence. It would focus on spotting and predicting possible avian-flu outbreaks and function as part of a larger portal on the subject to collect information from hundreds of sources around the world, inside and outside of the intelligence agencies. Avian flu, Meyerrose reasoned, is a national-security problem uniquely suited to an online-community effort, because information about the danger is found all over the world. An agent in Southeast Asia might be the first to hear news of dangerous farming practices; a medical expert in Chicago could write a crucial paper on transmission that was never noticed by analysts.

In August, one of Meyerrose’s assistants sat me down to show me a very brief glimpse of the results. In the months that it has been operational, the portal has amassed 38,000 “active” participants, though not everyone posts information. In one corner was the active-discussion area — the group blog where the participants could post their latest thoughts about avian flu and others could reply and debate. I noticed a posting, written by a university academic, on whether the H5N1 virus could actually be transmitted to humans, which had provoked a dozen comments. “See, these people would never have been talking before, and we certainly wouldn’t have heard about it if they did,” the assistant said. By September, the site had become so loaded with information and discussion that Rear Adm. Arthur Lawrence, a top official in the health department, told Meyerrose it had become the government’s most crucial resource on avian flu.

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This is a good use of the internet as policy and information generator.

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