Almost exactly twenty years ago, the Tiananmen Square uprising made history, and the protesters used a then-hot gizmo called the fax machine to coordinate their efforts. This week, something extraordinary is going on in Iran–and whatever happens, it’s clear that social networks and other Web tools will be remembered for the role they played.
Fax machines were hunks of plastic that remained unchanged throughout the drama in Beijing. The Web, however, can adjust itself on the fly to reflect the situation. Or rather the people who make Web services can. Facebook has just launched a version with a Persian interface, based on contributions from more than 400 Persian speakers. Iranians were already using Facebook; now they can use a version in their native tongue.
Similarly, Google has rolled out a version of Google Translate that can translate from Persion to English and vice versa. I’m not sure about how Google goes about adding new languages to the machine-translation service, but it was able to add Persian this quickly from a standing start, I’m impressed.
Meanwhile, Twitter continues to play an important communications role within and outside of Iran, and I hope that each and every people who’s ever sneered at it as amounting to nothing more than boring people sharing what they had for breakfast will reflect on its use by the Iranian protesters. If you’re gonna by snarky about a medium at its worst, it’s only fair to celebrate it as it helps make history, no?