Mapping the Iranian Blogosphere

imageThere's an interesting report from Harvard's John Kelly and Bruce Etling.  Their paper, Mapping Iran's Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere, breaks some conceptions of Iranian bloggers and what they blog about.  Understanding who is saying what is critical in any information environment, but in the New Media environment of a simultaneous compression of time (instant communications) and suspension of time (persistency that permits time-shifted access to content), understanding the target audiences is more important.  It is also easier if you have the Rosetta Stone that bridges language, culture, shape and form.  As Kelly and Etling note,

...where there are topics of interest in a society, there will often be collection of blogs connected to each other (and to other online resources) by many links. This simple insight, on the scale of a society, nation, or linguistic community, has a remarkable implication. Unique as a snowflake, the network structure of a society’s blogosphere will reflect salient features of that society’s culture, politics, and history. A society’s online communities of interest, social factions, and major preoccupations can be seen and measured, their words read and analyzed, through a combination of structural and statistical analysis and textual interpretation.

In their analysis, Kelly and Etling identified four top-level groups of bloggers:

  • Secular/reformist. Includes secular/expatriate and reformist politics and contains most of the ‘famous’ Iranian bloggers, including notable dissidents and journalists who have left Iran in recent years, as well as long time expatriates and critics of the government.
  • Conservative/religious . Includes conservative politics, religious youth and ‘Twelver’ (Shi'a who believe the entire purpose of the Islamic Republic is to prepare the way for the 12th Imam’s imminent return) and features bloggers who are very supportive of the Iranian Revolution, Islamist political philosophy, and certain threads of Shi’a belief.
  • Persian poetry and literature. The third major structure in the Iranian blogosphere is devoted mainly to poetry, an important form of Persian cultural expression, with some broader literary content as well.
  • Mixed networks. The fourth group of blogs is different from the first three in that its structure is looser and less centralized. It does not represent any particular issue or ideology, but rather the loosely interconnected agglomeration of many smaller communities of interest  and social networks, such as those that exist around sports, celebrity, minority
    cultures, and popular media.

They note that blocking by the government is mostly against the first group above, the secular/reformist.  Their exploration of blocked blogs outside this cluster is this interesting as well.  They also note geography isn't widely used in blocking and that readers inside Iran may not care, or know, the blog they are reading is authored in Los Angeles or Tehran. 

Radio and television can be used to engage a country, but let's not forget the internet.  This report deserves a careful read to engage and leverage one component of New Media against an ideological adversary.