Shirky on Twitter and Iran

Here’s a fragment of an interesting interview.

Q: What do you make of what’s going on in Iran right now?

A: 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.

Q: Which services have caused the greatest impact?

A: 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. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook’s model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down and now there are literally thousands of people around the world who’ve made it their business to help keep it open.

Q: Do you get a sense that it’s almost as if the world is figuring out live how to use Twitter in these circumstances

A: Some dissidents were using named accounts for a while and there’s been a raging debate in the community about how best to help them. Yes there’s an enormous reckoning to be had about what works and what doesn’t. There have been disagreements over whether it was dangerous to use hashtags like #Iranelection and there was a period in which people were openly tweeting the IP addresses of web proxies for people to switch to — not realizing that the authorities would soon shut these down. It’s incredibly messy, and the definitive rules of the game have yet to be written. So yes, we’re seeing the medium invent itself in real time…