Tweeting Iraq: US IT tech execs urge use of new media in the country

In Iraq, only five percent of the population currently has Internet access. Still, US tech moguls are banking on the fact that new social networking technologies, such as Twitter, will make it big in the country. In a recent trip to the Iraqi capital, executives from leading IT technology companies Google and Twitter, among others, called on Iraqis to exploit such applications on the web - mainly through more widely available mobile phone networks.
Jack Dorsey: Mr Dorsey is joined on a trip to Baghdad by executives from other web powerhouses. ©AFP

BEIRUT, May 13, 2009 (MENASSAT)- Compared to the low rate of Internet broadband penetration in Iraq, eighty-five percent of Iraqis have mobile phones.

And it’s the abundance of mobile phones in the country that will make headway for new media in Iraq, says Jack Dorsey.

Dorsey is the founder of the booming micro-blogging site Twitter. Through Twitter, users provide their “followers” with updates of a maximum of 140 characters, known as "tweets." The messages can be uploaded from the Internet or through mobile phones.

During his trip to Baghdad in late April, Dorsey said he was determined to make sure that Iraqis can use Twitter on their mobile phone handsets.

“We definitely have an intention to get it going here. I spoke to my business development person last night and said 'can we work with these people?' We intend to do it,” Dorsey was quoted as saying by AFP.

In Baghdad, Dorsey reportedly met with representatives from two of the largest mobile phone operators in Iraq, Zain and Asiacell, and said he was looking into partnering Twitter up with four other operators. 

When asked whether their Baghdad trip was perhaps a bit of an early call given the low rate of Iraqis who have access to the Internet, the executives responded that the days of the desk-top PCs and hard-wired Internet connections were a la mode yesterday.

Instead they emphasized that accessing the Web in Iraq was easier through mobile phones - using text messaging. 

Iraqis, said Richard Robbins of the US telecommunications company AT&T, should look to mobile phones and text messaging to interact with each other and the outside world as well as to help generating change in their country.

“While there are many challenges and there is definitely a long way to go for Internet access, we were very impressed at how many Iraqis, there is near ubiquity, use mobile phones," Robbins was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"While networks are still emerging, there is a huge amount of capability for using mobile phones and text messaging for communication, for interacting among citizens and for government and NGOs to interact with citizens."

But Iraq’s unreliable phone networks could pose a serious obstacle to new media growth in the country, which is already hampered by daily electricity cuts in Iraq.

During their trip, the IT delegation reportedly received a first hand taste of the issue when their conference call with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih was cut off after a power cut.

"It got disconnected. We had to call back a number of times,” Jared Cohen, the State Department official who chaired the delegation said in an article published by TIME Magazine.

Still, the visiting IT execs spoke of future business opportunities in Iraq in a positive tone during their trip, emphasizing that Iraq is still at an early stage of their technological development.

Hunter Walk of YouTube used the example of a woman using the video sharing site to find out what’s going on in her country as a sign that the future of new media in Iraq might be a bright one.

“When she hears about something that has happened in Baghdad she goes on to YouTube. That is a big plus for us,” he said.