You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, April 16 2014

2006 story in the Toronto Star (Hossein Derakhshan)

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

In addition to tracking the nuts and bolts numbers (of bloggers, of readers, of time spent blogging or reading blogs), authors Laurent Giacobino, Arash Abadpour, Collin Anderson, Fred Pretrossian and Caroline Nellemann also look at how the narrative surrounding Blogestan has changed over the years. The original “emancipatory narrative” that exaggerated the presence of young, hip, rebellious students was eventually challenged by the complex and diverse ecosystem described in John Kelly and Bruce Etling's “Mapping Iran's Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogospher” in 2008.

Since then, the interference of the state has attracted more attention from researchers and journalists, who have tracked things like Internet filtering and reported incidents of blogger intimidation, abuse and even incarceration. The “Whither Blogestan” authors found in their web crawl analysis that reformist blogs are filtered or removed 17 times more often than conservative blogs. In an interview, a well-known blogger said that once government officials began reading his blog, it “in effect became my case file.”

The relationship between blogs and social media uncovered in “Whither Blogestan” is particularly interesting. As the authors put it, social media sites are “both catalyst and impediment to blog consumption.” Bloggers can spread their work on social media, but the popularity of social media also decreases the direct connection between blogger and reader. Also, the conversations bloggers used to spark in the comments section of their site now take place on sites like Facebook and Google+ instead.

Blogestan's decline does not necessarily herald its end; the authors point out that nearly everyone they spoke to that began reading blogs four years ago or more still does so.

In the conclusion, the authors write:

Likewise, many bloggers disagree with the “end of history” notion regarding Blogestan and believe that cyberspace is young, evolving and prone to new developments...Other bloggers also suggest that Blogestan, to survive, will likely need to abandon the now- antiquated, tech-heavy blogging platforms and adapt to new, more efficient technologies by integrating, rather than competing against, the advances of social networking. To some, it is increasingly evident that the early manifestation of Blogestan is no longer a viable model, and that Blogestan’s future depends in part on its ability to mobilize the capacities of social networking that are constantly re-generating new avenues of communications.

And, as John Kelly writes in the foreword, “If we see a reprise of the original storyline about democratic shoots, it would be nice to discover that this time Spring is actually on the way.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.