John Robb wants to sell Radio to the FBI

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John Robb:

"Billions are being poured into the FBI and other governmental organizations and they can’t even get the basics right. […] This can be corrected very easily. Give every agent a laptop (shoot, they gave every student in Maine a laptop for Christ’s sake!). Put a weblogging tool on that laptop. Require that they write up a synopsis of every tip or interview they do in their weblog. Have them publish that weblog to a central Intranet. Put a Google appliance on that Intranet. Let it index the pages."

Well, maybe. If you have a hammer, everything starts looking like nails. Someone explains me how people are supposed to navigate the morass that this Intranet would be and actually dig anything useful about John Doe, the suspect they’re interrogating.

"How simple is that? A couple of simple search routines could have netted this information. After that, it would only be a matter of ruling out suspects — which could have been left to local police. A couple weblogs, sorted by region could have been set up to disseminate the most likely leads to local police. Don’t tell me it is more complicated than that. It isn’t."

Sorry but I don’t buy it at all. Do your simple "John Doe Caucasian" query and have fun parsing 18,000 blog results. I have a friend and client who has a quite uncommon name yet I dug out an article about a priest with the same name expressing his tolerance of nudism (at least the irrelevant result was fun in that context). Even if you train thousands of law enforcement agents to do proper search engine queries (which would probably be a good thing to do, but now we’re starting to dwarf the software licensing costs that were talked about), it’s obvious that no matter how great the search of unstructured data is with Google, it’s very far from perfect. If you’re looking at it honestly, many Google queries take quite some trial and error to bear fruit, or just utterly fail.
Besides, Google uses links to assess relevance. Now I really want to see that work in an Intranet context, and I’m willing to bet that the linking critical mass needed to create that layer of content organization will take a long time to reach. The FBI wouldn’t just need to blog their interviews and leads. They’d need to link to them in context too. Google works on the web thanks to its sheer size, i.e. out of hundreds of millions of users, someone will probably have properly linked to the relevant document. And even now, some questions (for instance, technical problems) get a much better yield on Usenet through Gooja than on the web, because of Usenet’s conversational questions-and-answers nature.

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