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An internet “press” conference

My life lately is filled with moments that make me aware that the Internet has really made my life very, very different from what it was a decade ago. Sometimes this involves attending the weddings of people I know better online than in person. Sometimes it involves spending the morning in a chat session with people from a dozen diffferent countries, talking about a project I’ve participated in at the request of a man in France that I’ve met only online and over the phone…

We had pretty good turnout for the IRC “press conference” we held on Global Voices for the launch of the RSF Guide for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents, with roughly three dozen people showing up. The folks who showed up may well be an object lesson in the challenges of using IRC as a format for discussion – no “offline” journalists joined us, though one tried very hard and failed… And we didn’t get the questions from users in repressive nations we’d hoped for. Again, choosing a technology for conversation that’s extremely geek friendly and newbie unfriendly is probably a bad call for maximizing participation…

The transcript of the talk is here.

The folks who did show up for the talk raised a couple of interesting, thorny and challenging issues about the guide, its distribution and its future. Haitham Sabbah, our Middle East editor at Global Voices, called into question one of the basic premises of the guide, wondering whether or not we should be encouraging anonymous blogging. There was a lively debate about the title of the guide – a number of participants weren’t comfortable being labelled “cyber-dissidents” and didn’t want to carry a guide with that title… while Julien Pain of RSF explained that most of the people he was concerned about reaching with the guide weren’t bloggers, but dissidents who happened to publish materials online.

A major theme of the discussion was a desire to “remix” the guide, to make it more easily distributable, more accessible to people in nations where RSF’s servers are blocked, and – in one case – to make the guide “less glossy”. (I actually think it looks beautiful just the way it is…) I’ve started a wiki discussion on the Global Voices wiki for people interested in talking about how we might remix or mirror the guide – if you’d like to participate, you’re going to need an account on that wiki. Email me at ethanz AT gmail and I’ll get you set up.

While it’s too bad that our press conference didn’t involve journalists, it was a great example of how people around the world can get excited about an idea and how something like the publication of this guide can serve as a seed crystal for efforts of activists around the world. And if you’re missing interaction with journalists, Thomas Crampton from the International Herald Tribune has posted in a comments thread two questions I succesfully ducked in my interview with him a few days ago:

1- couldn’t al qaeda rename your book as a guide to terrorist communication?

2- aren’t you alerting the authorities to the ways people are keeping things private on the net?

Could be the seeds of a good conversation.