Social Media Innovation Aids Egypt Struggle

February 2, 2011Egyptby EW News Desk Team

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With the unruly sounds of protests in the background, the Egyptian man declared there were 50,000 demonstrators in the streets of Cairo.

“And the number is growing,” he said, raising his voice to be heard on the recording.

Unedited, raw, anonymous and emotional, Egyptian voices are trickling out

through a new service that evades attempts by the authorities to suppress them by cutting Internet services.

But there is still some cellphone service, and so a new social media link that marries Google, Twitter and SayNow, a voice-based social media platform,

gives Egyptians three phone numbers to call and leave a voicemail,

which is then posted on the Internet as a recorded Twitter message.

The messages are at twitter.com/speak2tweet and can also be heard by telephone.

The result is a story of a revolution unfolding in short bursts.

Sometimes speaking for just several seconds, other times for more than a minute,

the disembodied voices convey highly charged moments of excitement or calm declarations of what life is like

in the Arab world’s most populous country as it seeks to overturn the rule of its leader.

The messages rolled out as Egyptians seemed to be approaching a crucial point

with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into central Cairo on Tuesday

as protests continued to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters have sought to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to muster momentum for attendance at demonstrations

even as the Egyptian authorities have shut off Internet access.

“Urgent news,” one caller to speak2tweet said. “The police have changed to serve the people. We are very happy.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the account had more than 8,000 followers.

Not all of the callers were phoning from inside Egypt.

On Tuesday the service started to identify the country, with a hash mark, from which each recorded message came.

While most were from Egypt, they included calls from Germany and the United States in Arabic and English,

as well as messages from Arabic speakers in the Netherlands and Turkey.

It was clear that support for the uprising in Egypt crossed borders.

“I live in Jordan,” said one man, urging on the demonstrators in a crackly recording.

“I want to congratulate Egyptians on their popular revolution.”

One man calling from the United States criticized what appeared to him to be the double standard of democracies that support a “dictator who ruled for 30 years.”

“If you don’t stand with the people who are looking for freedom,

they are not going to believe any more of everything you say about democracy and freedom,” the man said.

Another man, speaking for several seconds, introduced himself simply as an Egyptian engineer named Wael.

Without a trace of irony in a message that could potentially be heard by millions, he voiced dismay over cuts in the Internet.

But no Internet connection is needed for speak2tweet, and in Egypt there was some phone service.

Vodafone was working for text and voice on Tuesday, while AT&T BlackBerry users said MobiNil was working.

Callers in Egypt had three numbers to leave recorded messages,

based in the United States (1-650-419-4196), in Italy (39-06) 6220-7294 and in Bahrain (973) 1619-9855.

Then the service will instantly send the recorded call as a Twitter message using the hashtag #egypt.

They are subject to international calling charges,

but Google and SayNow, which announced last month that it had been acquired by Google,

are also exploring the possibility of setting up a local phone number in Egypt, someone close to the project said on Tuesday.

“Like many people, we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” said a joint statement posted Monday

by Ujjwal Singh, the co-founder of SayNow, and AbdelKarim Mardini, Google’s product manager for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Over the weekend, we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service —

the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection,” the statement said.

“We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time.

Our thoughts are with everyone there,” according to this inspiring item in the New York Times.

 

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