How to Search the WikiLeaks Documents

Roberto Pfeil / AP

The sheer volume of the release of the 251,287 diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks plans to make public is unquestionably overwhelming. Against the will of the State Department, WikiLeaks plans to eventually release cables from 274 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world from, mostly, the last three years. So far, the world has full access to just 243 cables; the group plans to roll out the rest in the coming months because, as its Web site argues, "the subject matter of these cables is of such importance ... to do otherwise would not do this material justice." Meanwhile, data-mining tools are already proliferating. Here are five of the best ways to wind your way through what will prove to be an unwieldy cache of fascinating classified information.

1. Straight From the Source

WikiLeaks has dedicated a site to the documents— With few frills the lifeless delivery fits the purpose: this site will be ground zero for the massive raw data dump. That said, so far the navigation tools are fast and easy: you can browse by date, tag, classification, etc. But while this site will remain the foremost repository, as more and more cables come online, these mechanics will soon be overloaded by the sheer mass of siftable communiques.

2. Go For What's Most Important

The digital team at The New York Times has created an engaging interface with the look and feel of diplomatic correspondence. Rather than trying to drink straight from the fire hose, what the Times offers is the wisdom of their editors (as well as the consultation of the State Department, who've redacted some sensitive material) who are doling out a number of cables each day grouped by subject. Classy, but not comprehensive.

3. Search It All

At an anonymous techie has erected a text search that seems to work quite well across all of the cables on the WikiLeaks site. As more cables are released, it will be interesting to see how comprehensive a read this will deliver on topics like "terrorism," "nuclear," "Sarkozy," or, God forbid it should be needed, "Galyna."

4. Read them Collaboratively

A French site called StateLogs uses a bulky display to encourage interactive chatter around each of the cables, though its most innovative offerings—Maps and a Timeline—have yet to be rolled out. On the social-media front, the Twitter conversation is sprawling around the hashtag #cablegate and with the rare exception of collective wit, i.e. "The next G20 is going to be soooooo awkward...", the strain is mostly full of the masses who've decided any secrets in foreign affairs mark a vast conspiracy afoot.

5. How the Europeans Do It

The Guardian, reveling in espionage imagery (it looks a lot like the CIA branding even though these are all documents from the State Department) offers a graphical interface that at first appears easy to use but if you're interesting in getting lots of data—nevermind printing it—will quickly wear on your nerves. For quick hits, however, it's fun. Likewise, perhaps the best digital expression of how geographically far-reaching these cables truly are, take a look at the map the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel has put online. It's a reminder that when you step back from all the details, that Washington has a vast and comprehensive diplomatic network that has many adept fingers in every corner of the globe.

6. Google It

The search engine allows a word search of the documents released so far, using its "site" command. In the Google search field, for example, you can search for every mention of Obama like this: obama.