DorobekInsider.com: Watching the Web 2.0 effect in Iran – and a real gov 2.0 hero

Wednesday - 6/17/2009, 8:57am EDT

It is just fascinating to watch what is happening in Iran. It is interesting with all the discussion about how the Obama campaign used so-called “new media,” but this is almost more… not real, but… more raw, maybe… it is fascinating to see how it is happening. And one of the remarkable examples is happening right before our eyes in Iran.

TechPresident.com’s Nancy Scola has an excellent round-up of what people are doing — fascinating ways of supporting eDemocracy or whatever this will end up being. “By just about any measure, we’re seeing just an overwhelming amount of online information, direction, and action around Iran. Making any sense of it is a real challenge,” she writes… and somehow, one just has a sense that whatever the outcome, this is going to have ramifications.

Jared Cohen

Jared Cohen

Meanwhile, while I somehow made a list of gov 2.0 heros, there is a real hero coming from this situation: 27-year-old Jared Cohen, a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, who, according to the NYT, placed the call to Twitter on Monday, inquiring about their plan to perform maintenance in what would be the middle of the day, Iran time. [Hat tip to the Bay Newser blog... and don't miss the November 2007 profile of Cohen in the New Yorker, Condi's Party Starter. The New Yorker notes, "Before his State Department days, while he was still a graduate student at Oxford, Cohen talked his way into a visa for Iran, where he hoped to interview members of the political resistance. Instead, he made friends his own age."... And yes, I did type November 2007. Whew! I'm feeling like I live under a log or something.]

From the NYT story headlined U.S. Steps Gingerly Into Tumult in Iran:

The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.

“This was just a call to say: ‘It appears Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran. Could you keep it going?’ ” said P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

Twitter complied with the request, saying in a blog post on Monday that it put off the upgrade until late Tuesday afternoon — 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Tehran — because its partners recognized “the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.” The network was working normally again by Tuesday evening. The State Department said its request did not amount to meddling. Mr. Cohen, they noted, did not contact Twitter until three days after the vote was held and well after the protests had begun.

Meddling? To the contrary, it seems like very agile thinking on the part of Mr. Cohen.

But it does seem like we are seeing the early glimpses of what could be a watershed moment. Web 2.0 guru Clay Shirky has a fascinating Q&A on the TED Blog and he says, “This is the big one.”

Q: What do you make of what’s going on in Iran right now.
Shirky: I’m always a little reticent to draws lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that … this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is really extraordinary.

Read the full conversation here. Of course — shameless plug — read Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Meet the Innovators conversation with Shirkypart one… and part two

Back to State Department’s Cohen for a moment… I noted the New Yorker about his getting into Iran. That spurred a book, Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East. The book’s self-description: “Defying foreign government orders and interviewing terrorists face to face, a young American tours hostile lands to learn about Middle Eastern youth—and uncovers a subculture that defies every stereotype.” And yes, I did just download it onto my Kindle. You can read an excerpt of the book here.