Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blogging the Revolution, How We Could Help.

Baharestan Square and Parliament, Tehran
(source: google maps)

-in Baharestan we saw militia with axe choping ppl like meat - blood everywhere - like butcher - Allah Akbar - persiankiwi
To follow the twitter streams coming out of Iran is to witness the birth of a new form of journalism that hasn't fully found its platform yet, but has moved forward into a vernacular territory that traditional journalism avoids. The streams are full of humanity; joy, exhilaration, fear, pain, resolve, despair. It's an incredible form that locates itself somewhere between poetry and journalism, with fact and feeling wrapped up together. I am amazed at the outpouring of support for Iranian bloggers from readers all over the world.

Twitter streams are being quoted all over the MSM, with CNN re-posting a number of them verbatim, lacking any other sources to work with. The paradox here is that anonymous sources are the least trusted in journalism, specifically because there is no one to hold accountable for the information. In the case of Iranian bloggers, the anonymity is necessary, but that doesn't remove the problem of anonymity in general. However, the rules are a little different in social media circles. There are people who post regularly through anonymous names but who establish credibility through their consistence and authenticity of voice.

Iranian bloggers are risking their lives to send out information from Iran and we owe it to them to do the most we can to understand and utilize that information in a meaningful way. And they are doing this in the most public of ways through social media. We have to trust that the information that they are risking their lives to send out is important enough to them to send it, and therefore important enough for us to do something with it. Some of the information is general, as in "We have just returned and outside the city sky is full of teh sounds of 'Allah Akbar' from ppls on balconys -" and some of it is more specific, as in "in Baharestan we saw militia with axe choping ppl like meat - blood everywhere - like butcher - Allah Akbar - ."

What is lacking is a map that weaves together these social media narratives in a specific way and anchors them in a time and place. Imagine an image stream that would accept cell phone photographs and video with gps data attached and plug them into a google map of Tehran so that protesters with cell phones who have images worth the risk of sending would have a platform for them to be seen in the geographical context of their origin. Imagine an event where images are streaming in with attached gps data, filling points on a map where they were taken, giving viewers on the web a flood of information that is anchored to a specific time and place. Then the maps could be sorted by days and a narrative of events would emerge that has no beginning or end, but is a matrix of information, with photographs overlapping and corroborating each other from multiple sources. It is no longer about the specific image so much as about the flow. This would bypass MSM channels and go straight to the platform from which you would see it. It would be hard for any government to ignore this kind of information.

The technology exists. A lot of the stories and images are already in circulation. It's just a question of how to put them all together.


narathkor said...

You are correct, the technology does exist, that is a very strong idea!

In fact with the support around the world right now, no better time than now to implement such an endeavor.

It would require support from knowledgeable people around the world that would be willing to help put this together. I could certainly host it on TheUAZ's servers. Push this idea forward lets see what comes out of it. Feel free to contact me and we can put our heads together!

Anonymous said...

Location specific reports depend mostly on the medium in which they are sent. I know for instance that if I post to twtr via my iPhone there's an option to include my coordinates via the location services option. The technology exists, it's a matter of the proliferation of this technology on mobile devices.

Aric Mayer said...


Thank you for your offer. To start with, how familiar are you with Iranian cell phone technology and do you know whether or not they offer the option to support gps metadata?


You are absolutely right and this might be ahead of its time in this case. I'm also looking into an aggregation system that would have to be administered but would achieve something similar. The question is how to turn a flood of visual and textual information into a more cohesive political picture.

Tanya said...

So, you want to organize all the photos, videos and tweets that are already on the web into coherent collections to form a narrative of what occurred at a given time and place?

If I have that right, one manual process could be as follows: create a wiki, organize it by creating pages with date and place name as the wiki page name/url. On each page, manually collect tweets, user created video, photos, broadcast news video and throw in a google map that shows the location. One page then for example would be []/June-24-2009-Baharestan-Square

The video from youtube will be tough to sort out since it rarely includes clues as to the date and place in the video itself. It is normally downloaded and reuploaded on multiple dates, etc.

David Campbell said...

Although it doesn't have the map idea, there is a good aggregator of Iran news at -- media commentators like Jeff Jarvis have drawn attention to this.

Certainly, these events demonstrate that a move to understanding stories as fluid flows of news, rather than static reports, with the web technology to support and manifest this, is well underway.