"I think no one knew quite what to make of WikiLeaks, at first, because we had no model to analyze it against," said Ardia. "They launched however with a fairly substantial tranche of documents that I think established their place in the media eco-system very quickly."
Traditional media had long been the channel by which top-secret information reached the public, he said. And that process typically involved a significant amount of verification, analysis and conversation with the individual giving up the intelligence.
"WikiLeaks compresses and circumvents a lot of that process. There isn't a lot of back and forth between the source and WikiLeaks," he said.
But he and others say the site, which is funded by donors, has succeeded because it knows how to maintain its sources' anonymity and anticipate the political and corporate reactions to its leaks.
"They understand that they are going to be in the crosshairs of a lot of powerful interests so they have consciously set themselves up to provide the greatest amount of protection of its original sources," Ardia said.
Though anyone can submit information to the website, experts say the site doesn't keep logs of who visits the site and what they post. Before the site publishes documents, they say it makes sure that information that might identify the source has been deleted.
A recent New Yorker magazine profile on Assange revealed that WikiLeaks' small staff conducts conversation via encrypted online chat services.
To protect against potential censhorship, Ardia said WikiLeaks maintains servers in several countries around the world (in about 20 undisclosed locations, according The New Yorker).
The different servers "mirror" (or replicate) the data, he said, so that if one country shuts down a server, other servers can still supply the information.
But experts also point out that WikiLeaks doesn't just make good use of technology, it also makes good use of politics.
"It's less technical and it's more political," said Bruce Schneir, a security technologist and author. "It's a deft use of politics."
The site is careful to operate in countries, such as Iceland and Sweden, that have the strongest press freedom laws.
Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said that though other sites traffic in classified documents and whistleblowers, none have gone as far as WikiLeaks in terms of soliciting and protecting sources.
Though the site isn't breaking any laws in the countries in which it operates, he said, some wonder what the backlash might be in the countries that have to deal with the consequences.
As WikiLeaks continues to push the envelope in the dislosure of classified intelligence, he said it's possible that it might become more difficult for whistleblowers to share information in the first place.
"Some have been supportive whereas others have raised major concerns that this may lead to less information in the future," he said.