Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

A useful analysis of the new media HERE.
NYU professor Clay Shirky gave a fantastic talk on new media during our TED@State event earlier this month. He revealed how cellphones, the web, Facebook and Twitter had changed the rules of the game, allowing ordinary citizens extraordinary new powers to impact real-world events. As protests in Iran exploded over the weekend, we decided to rush out his talk, because it could hardly be more relevant. I caught up with Clay this afternoon to get his take on the significance of what is happening. HIs excitement was palpable.

What do you make of what's going on in Iran right now.
I'm always a little reticent to draw 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 reallly extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It's Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it's easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I'm sure it wasn't conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it's had global consequences.


  1. A skeptical take on the whole Twitter thing:


  2. He makes some good points, but sets up quite a few straw men along the way. That Twitter was able to keep at least this information line open when reporters were sequestered in hotels make it significant. Huffington Post has doen a good job of syntesizing the fragments, weeding out rumors and verifying sources. Toss out the exagerated claims, note the low sound to noise ratio, and you still have a phenomenon worth thinking about.

    As for the the claims of fraud being unverified--circumstantial evidence is not necessarily insubstantial. A vote count announced 3 hours after the last polls closed--that would mean counting something close to 3500 paper ballets a second. I'm not sure what the motive is for applying reasonable skeptism vis a vis Tweeter to the election itself and to the athenticity of the popular outrage--some strange rhetorical connections here: former 'bomb bomb Iran' Republicans are all excited about this, therefore... therefore what?

    Overall, there was as much journalistic distortion in this piece as he seems to find in his thin reading of how the social media have been used by those with enough intelligence to know how to sort out the wheat from the chaff.