Whether you think Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, committed a public service or a crime by releasing thousands of formerly secret U.S. government documents, you have to admit that being able to walk through a memo that in the past could only be read by a government big shot is intriguing.
Not unlike the advanced-search feature on Google, the WikiLeaks engine gives the user options to narrow their search. (See the screenshot below for a look at some of the options.)
You can, for example, limit the search to a specific set of documents – the “Kissinger cables,” for example – or information related to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Interested in specific incidents during the conflict in Afghanistan? Check the box for “Afghanistan War Logs,” then limit the search using the keywords you want to include and exclude.
The engine is very fast, and it makes it relatively simple to find specific documents you may have read about. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll likely have to do quite a bit of searching and possibly wade through sizable pile of false hits. Still, compared to using WikiLeaks in the past, the new search engine makes it much, much simpler.
I’m enthused about this because it gives ordinary people a chance to do what only journalists could in the past: read documents that have a significant bearing on the policies of our government and then make up their own minds about the issue. I’m neither endorsing nor condemning what Manning, Assange and Snowden did. But I do praise WikiLeaks for making it easier for the rest of us to access its trove of documents.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.