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Ghonim: "Our Revolution Is Like Wikipedia"

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, February 14 2011

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was behind the Facebook group that helped catalyze the revolution in Egypt and was later held by Egyptian authorities for 12 days, made an appearance on "60 Minutes" last night, sitting down with Harry Smith. And he seemed as eager as the rest of us to figure out a shorthand way of thinking about what went down in Egypt over the last month.

In a web-only outtake, Ghonim comes up with a easy way of understanding how the contributions of the many could come together into a force capable of triggering the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. Think of the wiki, says Ghonim, referencing that humble collaboratively-edited medium that Ward Cunningham dreamt up way back in 1995, and of its most famous instance:

Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay? Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don't know the names of the people contributing the content. This is exactly what happened. Revolution 2.0 in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And no one is the hero in that picture.

Of course, as Ghonim tells it, the "Wikipedia Revolution" isn't about a medium at all, but an approach -- a nimbleness that makes use of whatever tools are at hand and whatever interest can be tapped into in the hearts and minds of the people. When Facebook went down after he posted details on the locations of planned protests, says Ghonim, "I had a backup plan." He switched to Google Groups, and then asked people to help spread the information far and wide. "And everyone knew, eventually," Ghonim tells Smith. (So, wait, does that make this an "Email Revolution"? Yes. It must.)

Ghonim has tweeted that he plans a book on "Revolution 2.0." And he's also posted a Google Moderator forum that asks Egyptians to post their hopes and dreams for the country, now that the Mubarak era has ended. So is this a "Google Moderator Reconstruction" of Egypt? Stay tuned.

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