Julian Assange has been bunking for more than a week at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as he waits to see if the South American country will grant him asylum. If he leaves the embassy, British police say, he'll be arrested. Apparently fed up with the waiting game, late this week police sent a note to Assange asking him to turn himself in. He's apparently ignoring it.
This is just the latest Assange nail-biter since he became globally famous two years ago for publishing a trove of classified U.S. documents and sensitive State Department cables, acts that angered a lot of people who'd like him to go away.
Assange is dangling from a cliff, for sure.
Hanging by a pinky finger next to him -- WikiLeaks.
"Could the site itself go? Yes. As an idea, though, WikiLeaks isn't dead. The idea, the spirit, of leaking online is much bigger than WikiLeaks, and there are groups trying to do it," said former Guardian journalist and Columbia University journalism professor Emily Bell, who taught a class about ethics and WikiLeaks.
The operative word is "trying."
"WikiLeaks has shown that, in real life, facilitating leaks takes a lot of money and it leaves a lot of people vulnerable," she said.
The future of leaking online is bright, she said, but any WikiLeaks aspirants will have to figure out one thing.
How do you become a symbol of transparency yet hide much of how you operate?
"The trick and brilliance about WikiLeaks is that it was set up to evade law," Bell said, noting WikiLeaks had servers in different countries so no single territory could legally shut the site down. "Most mainstream publishers are just not in that business. They are still not comfortable with that. You saw even the most sophisticated and financially strong groups unable to do this."
The New York Times has shelved an idea to set up a system for leakers. Former executive editor Bill Keller talked about the idea in 2011. The Times worked with WikiLeaks to release leaks in 2010.
"The technology was too complicated," Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades-Ha told CNN this week.
The newspaper is still open to the idea, she added, but won't be working on it "anytime soon."
A list for would-be leakers
Beyond technology, there are huge challenges to creating a leaking site, lessons that perhaps only the past two years of travails at WikiLeaks could have taught.
Here's the list of must-do's to pull it off:
1. A site must publish relevant and important leaked information and have the staff to vet it, even if it's a huge amount of data. The dominant aesthetic of sites that publish leaks is text, text and more text, which can dizzy the eye and feel overwhelming. Consider presentation, design. Keep in mind that readers are smart, but they are busy and cannot, probably, read a quarter-million U.S. State Department cables.
2. It has to build and maintain a communication-sharing infrastructure that protects the identity of leakers. That helps establish credibility and makes people less afraid to send information.
3. It has to be ready to pay -- in money and reputation -- for the consequences of leaking. WikiLeaks began having money problems, Assange said, not long after the 2010 published leaks. Assange claimed that various institutions and corporations had hit the site with a financial blockage. The WikiLeaks founder even joked in an online ad about how much it costs to be in the business of leaking, riffing on the classic MasterCard ads:
20 secure phones to assist in staying anonymous -- $5,000
Fighting legal cases across five countries -- $1 million
Upkeep of servers in over 40 countries -- $200,000
Donations lost due to banking blockades -- $15 million
Added cost due to house arrest -- $500,000
Watching the world change as a result of your work -- priceless