A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Unintended Consequences: Iranian Opposition Concerned About Google Reader Changes

Google Reader is one of Google's many free services; it's primarily a reader for RSS feeds. While I have used it for that, I was — I suspect like many other users — unaware that it had social sharing features as well. Google recently announced that it will be removing those sharing features from Google Reader and merging it more closely with the social networking features of Google+, Google's challenger to  Facebook.

What I, and presumably Google, did not know is just why Google Reader is the number one RSS reader in Iran: because it doubles as a social networking medium that is difficult for the regime to filter. Blogger Amir explains in imperfect English but clearly enough:
Google Reader, which thanks to its social features (which are going to be removed), is much more than a simple RSS reader for Iranian users. Google Reader is not in a separated domain (like any other Google product) and thanks to https protocol, it is hard to filter by government (To filter google reader the whole google.com domain should be filtered). In a country which all social website like twitter, facebook, friendfeed, and video or image sharing websites like youtube, tumblr, flickr, picassa and many more are banned, Google reader acts like a social websites and in lack of any independent news website (it should be mentioned that all international news channels like BBC, CNN, VOA, and all other non-governmental news website are banned,) Google Reader acts like a news spreading website. Easy access to Google reader made it suitable for Iranian community and through all these years, specially after June 2009 election, developed an strong community for spreading the news.
Users like VahidOnline, with more than 7500 followers acts as a hub for spreading and sharing the news from different sources like many other popular users. Commenting space of popular users are also like a forum for discussion about the news and events! Websites like Balatarin (digg like Iranian website) with 60000 subscriber, kaleme.com which represents green movement news with more than 12000 subscriber, BBCpersian with 10000 feed subscriber are some of the examples why such a simple RSS news reader website changed to be one-of-the popular website in Iran. Where all blog provider services like Blogger.com and Wordpress.com are also banned, many weblogs owe their readers to Google reader and some also use notes as a weblog post or tweet.
Here's a post on the subject at TechCrunch, with multiple links to discussion boards etc. There's apparently quite a movement online to roll back the decision. (And, no doubt, the controversy has now called the regime censors' attention to a back door they left open.)

Unintended consequences; Google might be well-advised to rethink the decision.

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