Saturday, June 04, 2005

Iranian Bloggers Find Freedom Online
Only four years have passed since Hossein Derakhshan, Iran's leading blogger and Internet activist, published a guide to making a weblog in Persian. Now the influence of weblogs has spread to every aspect of Iranian people's daily lives. READ MORE

Farsi has become the third most prominent language of bloggers on the Net, despite the fact that Farsi speakers around the world number just 100 million (including Afghans and Tajiks who speak Farsi).

A look at some statistics may shed light on why this phenomenon is so important for Iranians. The statistics are from Persianblog, the biggest weblog service provider in Persian, established two and a half years ago by three young college students.
  • 600,000 daily views (nine months ago it was 380,000)
  • Over 370,000 registered weblog and 63,000 active weblog
  • Over 2,000,000 visitors and 18,000,000 views per month
  • 1.7 posts and 6.2 comments per minute
Now if you look at the statistics of the publication of books (between 2,000 to 5,000) and newspapers (between 50,000 and 150,000) or know that Denmark has just 1,000 bloggers you can see why weblogs are so important and attractive.

If we want to know why Iranians are so determined to write weblogs, we must categorize them into five general categories:
  1. Personal weblogs
  2. News and political weblogs
  3. Expert weblogs
  4. Social weblogs
  5. Fun and entertainment
These categories can be divided into individuals' weblogs and group weblogs.

Iranians have an ancient civilization with a glorious historical legacy. And like many other very old cultures, they have attributes in their soul which you can't find very easily.

Thousands of years ago Iranians had little squares in their villages and cities. After their daily work people would congregate, speak about daily events, social engagements and problems and give their opinions. In this way they forged a culture based on agreement and unison.

This is a part of the Iranian soul and seems to be the primary reason for their approach to weblogs; they are carrying out this tradition in a modern way.

Here is a question for you. Why aren't Italians, who have a similar history of community and closeness, interested in weblogs? The biggest reason is that Iranians don't have modern backgrounds and some of their needs haven't changed. But they have modern amenities like the Internet.

Most Iranian weblogs are personal and are written from the heart; they even discuss just simple events in people's lives. And the comments that readers post are the same.

The other reason is Iran's unique social and political situation.

After the government shut down many reformist newspapers -- which up until then had promoted a free atmosphere of debate in Iranian political life -- newspapermen, reporters, photographers and other influential people gravitated to the Internet, because in this arena they could be their own editor; self-censorship was not necessary, or at worst was a minor factor.

Weblogs were so well-received that the Iranian Vice President started to write his own weblog.

News and political weblogs cropped up and after a while some visitors who had the ability to write news and political analysis decided to write in this category. The category enlarged so fast that now a news story in a relatively obscure weblog can come to be mentioned on television or in the newspapers.

A key example of this was the time Iran's first blogger, journalist Sina Motallebi, was arrested. In just a few hours this made the news. After foreign countries caught wind of the story, Motallebi was released.

Or another example is when National Geographic decided to change the name of the Persian Gulf in its new atlas to the "Arabian Gulf" without any justifiable reason. Iranian bloggers took issue with this and set up a petition that garnered 90,000 signatures in one week. Soon after, National Geographic reversed its decision.

Some Iranian bloggers are being hired by news agencies and newspapers, a trend that no one expected.

A lack of Persian content on the Web is the third reason Iranians have rushed to the Internet. Expert weblogs have been created for this reason, publishing information and articles on informatics, medicine, the environment -- even cooking.

When you look for a keyword in Persian on search engines, weblog results appear at the top of the page. Chat rooms, competitions, seminars, meetings and other similar activities are common in these types of weblogs.

The activities of art weblogs are particularly eye-catching. Most young Iranian artists publish their work on the Web because big publishers say they can't trust them. On weblogs they can fix their names in the minds of visitors and publish their artwork.

And also you can find the translation of novels and poems that can't be published legally in Iran for religious or moral reasons.

And in the case of social weblogs, they play an important role in networking. In fact, with analysis and news from social life they are publishing their ideas in business, philosophy and religion realms and are finding many friends and enemies in the process.

Entertainment is the last reason for the popularity of weblogs among Iranians, a common reason for Internet surfing in general that requires no further explanation.

There is one weblog category that is very critical of Iran's government and even discusses shutting it down, among other "sinful" ideas. This category is forbidden, but due to the nature of these issues and the large population of young people in Iran (70 percent are under 30) these weblogs get the most visitors.

These are the reasons, now here is some further information about Iranian weblogs.

One common happening in Iranian weblogs is the use of pseudonyms -- more than 90 percent of bloggers don't give their real names. Iranian sociologists believe that this stems from fear of persecution, causing people to equivocate, pursue anonymity and find a new identity.

Of course, some bloggers believe that people use pseudonyms because they think it is not important who you are but what you have to say. Iranian weblogs may be mirrors of Iranian society, but not necessarily full-length mirrors.