Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Following Web use in Arab revolt is much more than computer work

The Web 3.0 Lab does not just sit around all day following Twitter and Facebook and linking that up to new reports. We have our own engaged team lead by photojournalist Gail Orenstein. Gail is also posting a great deal of her work on CNN right now.

Gail is attending almost every major protest in London in support of revolts in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya. Our team has gathered a great deal of first hand data on how Web 3.0 technology is being used to support a global revolt.

We have learned some major things from people on the ground in London:

  • All revolts are using some form of messaging on mobile phones to keep in touch globally.
  • SMS and phone calls are still popular with older users, who often make of the leaders of local communities.
  • Among younger users with smartphones Facebook is the most often referenced social network for keeping in touch and sharing information.
  • Twitter is still cutting edge but many younger protesters are expressing an awareness and interest in this technology, and a few are heavy users.
  • There are a large number of young women who are actively engaged in protests and very independent.
  • These young women seem to be doing a massive amount of the text based collaboration.
  • The primary tool of young women is the Blackberry, with the iPhone coming in second.
  • Most of the close up videos we see are made by men. We see this time and time again, with the boys up front pointing iPhones in the face of protesters, and the women posting information from the sides or back.
  • Clustered on the edge of protests are groups of mostly young women who are continually engaged in updating Facebook status and messaging with community, many back in the nations impacted. We assume they constitute the bulk of outward flowing information from many protest.

From what we see in London we are getting an initial image of how a protest clusters and uses Web 3.0.

  • Young women are playing an extremely active role in communication
  • Communications are highly decentralized
  • Men are more likely to take front line videos for YouTube
  • There is a massive awareness of the power of the Internet and interest in it.

My Android Galaxy Tablet is always a big hit at these protests. But technology is secondary in all this. We need to remember that this is a political struggle using Web 3.0 and Social Networks as a tool. It is not about the Internet. Because of conditions of history this moment has emerged when global Internet collaboration tools are available, and we believe they may make the difference in some cases.

We also need to give credit to the firms of Google, Facebook and Twitter who refused to go the route of Yahoo! and accommodate their service to the demands of regimes.

These companies took a huge risk in providing the collaboration space for organizers. If protests fail they could likely be locked out of the massive Arab market.

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