Iranians’ Blogs - Fariborz Shamshiri
This week on Tactical Networks and Simulations, I would like to introduce an e-mail interview I’ve done with Fariborz Shamshiri.
Shamshiri is an Iranian journalist who writes about Iran’s social issues and political news principally through Rotten Gods. As he mentioned in one of our previous correspondences, he defines himself as a “perpetual student who never gets old because of his curiosity”. He is also the administrator of an open directory project titled Iranians’ Blogs which aims to list all English blogs maintained by Iranians. The idea is quite simple: if you are an Iranian, have a blog in English and would like to be listed in the directory, all you have to do is to send an e-mail to Shamshiri with your link and your current location.
The directory makes clear distinction between bloggers inside of Iran and bloggers outside of Iran by proposing two different sections. It also displays a live feed generated from blogs appearing in the directory on the right side.
After sending my interview proposition to Shamshiri, I’ve received this answer:
Dear Tolga Taluy,
Thank you for your proposition and I am flattered but I don’t know what to say.
This is very small project and we have long way to go.
If you think so the interview is helpful to your project too, I will be glad to participate otherwise I am not into interviews.
Also, I like to know, why Iranians’ Blogs is interesting for you? What makes it interesting in your opinion?
Therefore, we started this interview in reverse, as it follows:
In my opinion, Iranians’ Blogs is interesting, because it is all about structuring existing information by building a database. One of the structural propositions would be to build a directory. In your case, the open directory as a public project seems to be a pertinent proposition. It gets expanded because people want to take part in the project. The layout is quite simple. You divide blogs in two categories: bloggers inside of Iran and bloggers outside of Iran. There is also a live feed displaying the most recent posts from blogs listed on the page. One of the things I enjoy about this project is the eclecticism of present blogs. Iranians’ Blogs can also be considered as a contemporary metaphor for Aesop’s “United we stand, divided we fall” in a country where freedom of speech, amongst other things, is a delicate matter. Now it is your turn, if you will. What would be your description of the project?
This project is a simple directory of English blogs written by Iranians inside and outside of Iran. The interesting part of this project is to provide a platform for different opinions of our society. Keep in mind that most Iranian bloggers are liberal and favoring secular government and also there are some religious and pro-government bloggers too.
You also mention that it is currently a very small project and you have a long way to go - what would be the ideal scale for such a project?
My ideal project would be something that covers whole Iranian blogs with different languages, a live translated feed of Persian language blogs and some neat features that would connect Persian language bloggers with their counterparts in other countries and languages.
In your opinion, what is the need to show diverging reflections in a same place?
I wanted to show what it is out there, in reality and this directory is all about that. It is a collection of everyone voices from anti-government to pro-government bloggers. I think so it is very important to show different voices can coexist and have discourses on issues at hand in one place while there is no totalitarian regime rule over us. Indeed, we can have this kind of approach in our country.
What kind of differences do you see between different languages when they relate the same event?
There are many differences between different languages when they relate the same event because it is just not about language, there are many factors included like culture, perspective, education, perception and trust me sometime you read one story in different languages from different cultures and I shock to see how they think and what part of story they have covered that I couldn’t even imagine about it.
As you describe the ideal form of Iranians’ Blogs, I spontaneously ask myself if it isn’t dangerous to build up a digital monopoly?
Monopoly is dangerous but in this case, the users decide what to do and what to read. So I can say there wouldn’t be monopoly when users run and manage the system by their choices somehow.
If we summarize the process, users who are willing to take part in this project send you their links through e-mail and you add their blogs to the directory by providing the same service to everyone. I have two complementary questions concerning the methodology. On one hand, I wonder how the visitors can be sure your choices are completely objective and transparent? On the other if you don’t take any social or political position through subjective moderation, how can you be sure this directory won’t be exploited by anti-governmental or pro-governmental blogs for example?
When we use other directories we are not sure that they are completely objective or transparent either, but we still use them. Most of the blogs in this directory have been out there for couple of years. I periodically review all blogs, specially new ones to make sure everything is going forward smoothly. For the moment, I can still manage all the blogs because there aren’t so many, but in the future we have to come up with an automated process to warn us about suspicious activities. You know visitors are smart people and if you are not neutral, they will notice in a heartbeat and even bloggers would complain. Even though I manage the content, visitors and bloggers take part in it as well and that’s the beauty of it. If one day I exert bias and injustice, I know bloggers and visitors will react immediately and that’s what I like about this particular project.
Before ending this interview, I would like to come back to the idea of trust. You were mentioning that as long as the content is provided by users, there are no risks. But we have some previous examples where this doesn’t work sometimes, especially with Wikipedia for instance. There is a risk even when the information is moderated and I was wondering how can you pretend there is no risk when it is not moderated at all?
I didn’t say there is no risk. I think risk involves in every project including open content projects. Risks in Iranians’ Blogs is different than what Wikipedia has been experiencing there. Probably we get spammed by some people who have specific agendas but because it is not very big project now, it is manageable. So I don’t think it is a big deal with this limited Iranian English bloggers at hand.