Despite being pursued by a pack of starved and rabid wild dogs, our tireless blogger Gonzo was able to crash Day 3 of SXSW and bring back these illicit insights:
2009 Iran Election: Women’s Revolution or Twitter Revolution?
The panel was moderated by Shireen Mitchell and composed of Mona Kasra, Roja Bandari and David Parry. Mona and Roja were originally from Iran and are part of the US-based expatriate community trying to spread democracy in Iran. David Parry comes from a technology background.
The blogosphere changed the relations between men and women because women were finally able to talk about taboo issues like female sexuality. Some men were outraged at first but now there is a growing tolerance. Getting blogging software in Farsi was the key to the explosion of content, but the Iranian government is constantly cracking down and putting up barriers.
The revolution may have legitimized Twitter in the western world (the US government called Twitter during the revolution and asked them not to shut the site down for maintenance), but it was not just a Twitter revlution. The number of Twitter users in Iran was actually quite small. The most effective tactic was writing on currency. There was so much of it that the government couldn’t take it out of circulation. Also the government used social media to monitor people. Parry emphasized that technology can be used for good or evil. Or both.
Twitter was mostly important for bringing the issue into American consciousness. The 2007 Burmese Saffron Revolution was not burned into American consciousness because there was no Twitter element. Twitter might have had more affect on us in the West than those in Iran.
Iranian protesters and some based in the States are using innovative decentralized hierarchy-less tactics that we can learn from. Google Maps and blogging software have been indispensable. The US-based Diaspora community tried to use a wiki for awhile but it was abandoned. FriendFeed was popular then but it was blocked. Google Groups (which brings Usenet to the web) were hugely important and was used to organize. Word of mouth was key as well. It was a full-on movement so it wasn’t restricted to just a few channels.
The Iranian Diaspora uses Facebook to stay in touch. Adding the Farsi language was essential for this to happen since that’s the shared language; not everyone knows English.
The constant filtering means that the activists have to change their URLs all the time. Bloggers and other activists host their sites out of country so they can’t be taken down completely, but the government can still block URLs. It’s tough to keep an audience when the name/address of your site keeps changing. Proxies were very important for accessing blocked sites (albeit, very slowly).
The Iranian government blocked the Farsi word for “woman”, ostensibly to block porn but it had the effect of censoring the women’s movement. Bloggers were required to register with the government, but the law was widely ignored or protested against. The government owns the telecom companies so SMS was not safe. The government lowered the speed of the internet during the protests, but that just made Twitter more useful (especially since Facebook was quickly blocked and requires more bandwidth).
Parry said that western companies Nokia and Siemens are responsible for the government’s ability to packet-sniff due to technology they’ve licensed to Iran. Phones are tapped routinely in Iran and it’s easy to do since the government holds the keys. If company is giving something for free the business model is surveillance so open source software is essential to keeping free of monitoring.
Technology makes us more social, but the government can use the same technology to oppress us further. As soon as the government figures it out they will use it against the people. It took them awhile to figure out Twitter; Facebook they were already familiar with.
The Iranian government using Astroturfing techniques to spread propaganda online. They have something like 10,000 Basiji bloggers. These government-approved bloggers have high-speed net access. They are paid to put pro-government messages on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.
The main point espoused by the panel is that it’s too simplistic to think of the revolution as a Twitter revolution; there are so many other factors at play. Both women and Twitter were important. Twitter was more for getting the word out to us in the west. Womens rights movement was really the driving force and genesis of the revolutionary movement.
Facebook Developers Garage
200 million people play games on Facebook every month; one of the largest gaming platforms out there, depending on how you measure it.
Developers assert multiplatform social gaming is the future. Doesn’t matter what device you’re on you can still play with your friends. A new kind of gaming experience. Game developers tend to lead the way and let the concepts trickle down to other apps.
Josh Williams from Gowalla says Facebook Connect helped propel their traffic upward once they added it.
Yama from Seesmic talks about their origins as a video site that morphed into social software. They have been downloaded 4 million times but they’re not making money yet. They started out with Twitter but when they added Facebook it really started moving. Acquired ping.fm which sends your status update to like 50 different platforms. Still working on the iPhone app (and getting a lot of crap for it).
Sebastion of Playfish talks next and says they were recently acquired by EA. They call themselves a social games company. It’s a 50 billion dollar industry worlwide, but they think that will continue to grow. The ease of use of Facebook gaming has brought new gamers into the fold. The Wii, the iPhone and Facebook have all lowered barriers. They’re trying to reach friends not gamers.
Top grossing iPhone app was Sims 3 and 8 of the top 10 apps are games! Platforms should be irrelevant. Bring it everywhere. Pop Cap says social engagement is the key. Higher engagement equals a better chance at monetizing. Pop Cap has sold 50 million copies of Bejeweled on one platform or another. They rethought the game mechanics when they made Bejeweled Blitz, which is social.
It’s kind of ironic, but I swear game developers work harder than anyone.
13th Annual SXSW Interactive Web Awards
Awards shows can be a real drag unless you have somebody to keep things moving. Luckily, we had just that person in emcee Doug Benson, the comedian best known for his documentary Super High Me. I haven’t seen that flick, but I want to now that I’ve caught some of Benson’s awesomeness. He’s a funny guy and kept things light and fast. No one was safe from his ripostes, especially not the winners. You can view the finalists here if you’re interested.