Missing the conference / not missing the conference

Although my personal life wouldn’t permit yet another east coast trip at this moment (I was there in the summer and the fall and I’m headed there for the holidays as well), it sounds like the Internet ‘n’ society conference going on at Harvard this weekend would have been a nice one to make it to.
Then again, it’s been thoroughly eventblogged by many of my favorite bloggers du jour, so I am drinking it in vicariously through my newsreader.
Here’s a big chunk ‘o Weinberger:
Quoting from [VBB] BridgeBlogging

The part of the conference that most excites me is about to begin. Ethan Zuckerman, Rebecca MacKinnon and the Open Society Institute have created a track that has pulled together bloggers from around the world. The aim is to see what we all can do to help blogging spread, particularly in parts of the world where voices most need to be heard.

Ethan says that we’re here today to talk about blogs as bridges, borrowing Hoder’s metaphor from yesterday (blogs as windows that give you insight into someone’s world, blogs as cafes where people can talk together, and blogs as bridges). There’s something big happening, Ethan says.

We each introduce ourselves, all 60 of us. We are bloggers from Iran, Iraq, India, Kenya, China, Prague, Malaysia…as well as online activists and other bridge builders. This is a wonderfully diverse session.

Ethan: Our aim is to try to figure out how to be Hoder. “Hoder is to some extent responsible for why there are 75,000 Persian bloggers online.”

Omar from Iraq talks about the importance of blogging as a way of routing around propaganda. Then he talks about how the open comments from around the world on his blog helped his nephew “If I visited America a year and a half ago, I would have felt llike a stranger. This time I feel like I’m with friends, and that is the greatest gift I can think of.”

Mohammed from Iraq says that blogging is person-to-person. “Through blogging we can spread love, more than separate by hate.” “The media just want to create hate. But I have a different story.” He says that, for example, the newspapers play up an American soldier punching an Iraqi but don’t say that people go up to American soldiers and shake their hands.

Q: Who can get access to the Net in Iraq?
A: Just about everyone.

Chalu Kim (China): Do you also blog in Persian?
A: No. But we’re going to be talking about a Arabic language blogging tool today.
Rebecca: Big issue. Today we want to talk about how bridgebloggers can help bridge the translation gap.
Jeff Jarvis: It’s important to do both. Writing in your language builds community. Translating gets the story out.

Blackfive says he’s a military blogger. He never thought of himself as an activist, but his blog grew to include raising money for homecoming, wounded soldiers, and advocating for particular bills.

Q: How do we get a sense of what it’s like to be in the military in this conflict?
Blackfive: That’s a main reason people come to the site. Obvoiusly, bloggers can’t give away “operational information.” That’s where the censorship comes in.

Jarvis: What stories do you have of blogs forming bonds?
Blackfive: Email and blogs have brought us closer together. There’s a huge inter-service rivalry. Even within the services. So it’s really important to get beyond that. There’s not a lot of interaction between Iraqi bloggers and the military, but there is between Iraqi and American civilians.

Ethan: We’re seeing a lot of bridging to Americans. Can we open up the conversation to be more international? Jeff, what’s going on in Malaysia?

Jeff Ooi: Malaysia has given itself a mandate to enter the first world. Bloggers ask if their governance model is the right one. There are two blogging spheres in Malaysia, one written in our language and the others written in English. Blogs are aggregated at Petaling Street. “Blogging is not going to work if you have to do it alone. You have to hold the hands of the newcomers.” Broadband penetration is only 1% but we’re trying to do build bridges and renew the country.

Ory: What percent read from within your country?

Omar: Many of the people who read our blog from outside of Iraq are Iraqis.

Jeff: Malay bloggers don’t get much notice because they’re not googleable. [There’s some discussion of why that’s so.]

Q: The assumption with a bridge is that there are two level grounds. But that’s not the same wth the Internet. Even if everyone has access in Iraq, I’m sure that’s stratified by gender and education. in Iran, 3-4M out of 68M have access to the Internet. So, are blogs replicating the stratification?

Ethan: One of the obstacles to blogging in W. Africa is that there’s great conversation on talk radio. But there’s room for blogging as a way of recording stories for history.

Hoder: How about posting pre-revolution diaries so people can understand what had happened in the same places and same cities. [Great idea. I’ve been re-reading 1984 and one of the scariest bits is the way history is forced down the “memory hole.”]

Omar: Both the media and blogs in Iraq are newborn. The Iraq media doesn’t know that there are blogs.

Jeff: I was threatened with jail for something I blogged, and it helped that it was covered for 4 days on the front page of a leading newspaper.

Rebecca: We’ve seen Chinese bloggers blogging in English, and translating the English responses into Chinese, but the Chinese conversation that that engendered didn’t get brought back into English.

That’s just a piece of a piece!