Egypt: The revolution is handheld & in your computer


When Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim suddenly became a firebrand fueling the Egyptian revolution this week—there was no doubt left that new media is transforming the world. Still skeptical? You may not have a Facebook account yet, may never have Tweeted, may have no plans to buy an iPhone, let alone an iPad. But, there’s no question that the world’s foundations are shaking from the grassroots energy spread through these powerful new connections.

What are the real trends in mobile usage?
The media-research firm ComScore just released its overview of digital media in 2010 with forecasts for 2011. In addition to pointing out that online e-commerce is growing rapidly, which everyone knows, the report dug into specific media patterns. The research focused on U.S. respondents, but the trends are obvious in the streets of Egypt. Most Americans, if asked to guess what people are doing with high-powered telephones and other hand-held mobile devices, say things like: Playing games? Sports scores? In fact, those activities are way down at the end of the list. In December, the highest usage included: nearly 7 of 10 used mobile devices to send a text messge, more than half took a photo, 4 of 10 accessed news and information, one third emailed, one quarter checked the weather. And that’s the same pattern we’re seeing in the streets of Egypt.


SHORT ANSWER? MANY WAYS! Historians will tell us what really was effective, when they analyze all the data. A big warning to news analysts is that many invisible, ephemeral connections may be the real fuel here. That includes friends texting friends. Protest banners. Handbills. And, a host of other new-fashioned and old-fashioned methods that aren’t visible to the larger world. Big-scale digital media is taking lots of credit, but it could turn out that grassroots links are even more important.


GOOGLE NEWS: A starting point for millions. Easy to use. These days, Egypt ranks high on the list of news stories automatically provided when you visit Google News. But, this ever-changing index of news links also is hit or miss. New York Times breaking news is listed next to some kid who set up a news blog.

TWITTER: Always a mixed bag of junk and gems. Plus, lots of “sponsored” Tweets now are spamming up the flow—and even the term “flow” is a misnomer. There’s little coherent flow of dialogue in Twitter. It’s more like a hail storm. But, it is worth checking out the flow of Tweets with the “Egypt” hashtag. You also can surf from one hashtag (that’s a #-marked term in a Tweet) to another hashtag looking for intriguing information. All in all, a Wild West.

AL JAZEERA: There’s an online stream of Al Jazeera’s English service, but it’s spotty and loads slowly. (Here’s the Al Jazeera main English portal; here’s the “watch news video now” page.) You’ll also bump into Al Jazeera in Twitter, since the network pushes some of those “sponsored” Tweets. Of course, this source is well known. Many Americans receive Al Jazeera in their homes, and anyone who watches network news around the world sees Al Jazeera clips these days. One example: BBC has a formal relationship to share Al Jazeera video.

FACEBOOK: Also an obvious place to look. But, it’s very hard to sort out Egyptian pages if you don’t read Arabic. The backbone of social networking that launched the protests in Egypt was Facebook—and likely will continue to involve a lot of Facebook activity. Because the Egyptian government also watches Facebook, these groups and postings rise, fall and even morph to new areas. One example is a group called April 6th Youth Movement. The group has been around for several years. Then, it got a major “shout out” from American news media. April 6 supporters now are morphing through various groups, sites, Twitter feeds. Here is one of the April 6 Facebook groups, in Arabic, listing more than 90,000 members at the moment.

SPEAK TO TWEET: OK, now we’re getting into some innovation. This service is so new that many Egypt watchers haven’t found it yet. Mostly it’s in Arabic with mixed quality. Yes, it’s another Wild West of information. The Egypt-focused Speak to Tweet service opened January 31 thanks to Google and Twitter. It works through a series of cell numbers Egyptians can call and leave an audio message. Each sound file is saved digitally, then linked automatically to a fresh Tweet and the #Egypt hashtag.

WIKIPEDIA: This may surprise you! This massive encyclopedia of global information is being written every single day—and editors are using Wikipedia entries like an ongoing news journal. Every day, registered Wiki writers and editors are updating the Egyptian Protests page. At the top and bottom of this page you’ll find more links branching to other frequently updated pages. This gives us what Google News lacks—context and a full-scale effort to connect the dots of scattered news events. Absolutely amazing to watch this grow.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS: Cool stuff. Raw stuff. Real stuff. Now, we’re in a realm largely overlooked by the news media, where journalists mainly check wires and syndicates for reliably reported information. Just as diligent activists are updating the Wikipedia entries, they’re also updating Wikimedia Commons sections on the Egyptian protests. This is the enormous online archive of visual media related to Wikipedia. If you click around on various images, you’ll discover some are very high resolution. Also, some photogaphers have placed translation boxes around some of the protest signs. Hover your mouse over the boxes, if you spot them.

FINALLY INTO FLICKR: if you look closely at the credit lines on many Wikimedia images, you can jump into the Flickr galleries of photographers who frequently upload their work. Example: “M. Soli” posted this dramatic photo to Wikimedia; then, here is M. Soli’s Flickr Photostream where you’ll see his Egyptian Revolution set of photos. What’s fascinating about that experience is the opportunity to see the rest of this Egyptian’s life, including personal images that give him hope in the midst of the turmoil. OR, here is the photostream for “Muhammad” on Flickr. OR, one of the most prolific photographers is “monasosh” and her Flickr stream.

Please, if you’re aware of other links and resources that we should consider adding to this page—please email us at [email protected]

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