Twitter Squeezes Through The Bottleneck - InformationWeek

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IoT
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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/16/2009
02:49 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Twitter Squeezes Through The Bottleneck

Twitter has proven once and for all that sometimes less is more, that David can beat Goliath, and maybe even that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Twitter has proven once and for all that sometimes less is more, that David can beat Goliath, and maybe even that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.Twitter has accomplished all this by being able to slip through the bandwidth bottleneck fashioned by Iranian mullahs intent on keeping news of dissent corked up in their country.

Twitter has played such a crucial role in helping Iranians communicate amongst each other and with the outside world that the U.S. State Department has asked Twitter to postpone maintenance work that would have brought the service down temporarily.

It has even inspired some lamebrains to claim that the Tweets heard 'round the world are actually the work of the Israeli secret service, an idea thoroughly debunked by Chris Anderson of TED, but worthy of mention only because it illustrates the proportions that this social phenomenon has taken.

Because the service is so light, it can even be accessed using a dial-up connection -- in other words, short of shutting down the country's entire communications infrastructure, the Iranian government cannot filter out all the dissident Tweets.

Harvard's Jonathan Zittrain explains why Twitter is capable of delivering what other services cannot:

it'd be trivial for the Iranian government to block access to Twitter as it could to any particular Web site... but Twitter isn't just any particular Web site. It's an atom designed to be built into other molecules. More than most, Twitter allows multiple paths in and out for data... The very fact that Twitter itself is half-baked, coupled with its designers' willingness to let anyone build on top of it to finish baking it... is what makes it so powerful. There's no easy signature for a tweet-in-progress if its shorn of a direct connection to the servers at twitter.com. And with so many ways to get those tweets there and back without the user needing twitter.com, it's far more naturally censorship resistant than most other Web sites.

This isn't to say that Iranian Tweeters aren't facing monumental challenges, as the Guardian reports:

Iran's government appears to be selectively shutting down parts of the mobile phone network... In countries like Iran and China, the government controls much of the infrastructure and can cut down on the number of alternate pathways to uncensored information.

Fortunately, Iranian dissidents are at least as capable of handling the technology as anyone in the West, as illustrated by this series of Tweets aggregated by Andrew Sullivan:

"JUST IN: Iran blocking #iranelection tags. Migrate to #iran9 hashtag instead."

And:

Satellite TV is jammed... Internet is slow... Cell phone service coming and going... the night is coming in... this makes one worried
Nor do they lack in courage (not to mention fatalistic humor):

@BabakMehrabani is saying that he was beaten by a baton and his right hand is numb. He is twitting with the left hand.

Clay Shirky provides a great explanation of how cell phones and Twitter can "make history," and history is indeed being made right now.

But what's most appealing about Twitter is the idea that a very small thing with an innocuous name symbolizing the chirping of a sparrow can be wielded by a small group of people to outwit and, perhaps, defeat the weaponized forces of oppression.

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