Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Examining Weblogistan

I'm afraid I'll have to be away from this blog for the next several days. The topics I'll be covering upon my return include: Ahmadinejad at Columbia; the latest Scandinavian Mohammed cartoon controversy; and some special alternative programming for Banned Books Week.

In the meantime, I leave you with a link to a fascinating article from the June 2007 Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) on the development of the Iranian blogosphere or, as the author calls it, Weblogistan:

When three students--Salman Jariri, Hossein Derakhshan, and Nima Afshar Naderi--published the first three Iranian weblogs (or blogs) in late 2001, they were not aware that this was actually the birth of Weblogistan. Two years later, in 2003, Iranian Weblogistan was the fastest growing cyber-sphere in the Middle East, and it became a prominent feature in defining the new global phenomenon of online communities. Estimates for 2006 rank Iran ninth in the world for the number of weblogs, and Persian is among the top ten languages in terms of posting volume.[1] The Persian Weblog Service Provider (WSP) reports hosting over 180,000 registered weblogs, and the WSP Blogfa records traffic of over two million visitors a day.[2] According to Mahdi Boutorabi, managing director of PersianBlog, their service hosts the largest Iranian online community, with over 670,000 listed users.[3]

This paper tracks major characteristics of Iranian Weblogistan, points to the challenges it has posed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and assesses ways in which the authorities have confronted them thus far.[4] It is important to note that from the outset, the bulk of internet challenges the Islamic Republic is facing (cyber-crimes, sedition, disinformation and imbalanced reporting, harassment, defamatory, hateful, obscene and immoral content, and other aspects to be discussed further) are not at all unique to the Iranian case and could apply to other countries as well. In setting up an advanced telecommunications infrastructure, each state chooses its own strategy for managing new information and communications technology. Yet the loss of the stranglehold over the flow of information reaching its populace and the emergence of an uncontrolled public sphere, such as Weblogistan, pose additional challenges for regimes in China, Egypt, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, and Iran--which all appear on the Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) list of the "15 enemies of the Internet."[5]



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