Perils of Running a Blog for Persians

I started the first Iranian online service back in 1995. went online on March 21, 1995. It was a gathering place with live chat, backgammon and discussion forums.

While I was hoping the discussion forums would flourish and lead to something big, it was the chat rooms that were abuzz most times. It was exciting at the time to talk live with Iranians from all over the world including Iran (Sharif University had a dial-up 9,600 bps line for the whole campus and students would use it to get into soroush). Here’s a review from March of 1996.…

Needless to say, the site never did become financially self-sufficient, and, despite much good feelings, nothing politically or socially noteworthy resulted from free-form contact among Iranians. Eventually, closed up in 2001.

When I saw the new format with blogs, it reminded me of the discussion forums in soroush. I began to think about where we were then and where we are now; not just on the internet, but overall. I wondered if there were anything I had learned from my experience that could help the format now? I’m glad I did because it turns out I do remember a lot and it is a good time for a review.

Before I offer my suggestion about how to make the blogs succeed, I’d like to share what I came away with from my experience with soroush. I learned two lessons.

First one was about people. I learned that despite the lightning speeds and freedoms of anonymity in internet communications, people are still the same people. Before that, I had imagined all along that if only the good people of Iran, who obviously all wanted to resurrect their cultural honor and advance the cause of democracy in Iran, could, and were allowed to communicate directly with each other, something would click, leaders would emerge and actions would snowball. Not so.

Not so fast, anyway. If there are benefits to communicating freely and spontaneously, it will still take time; maybe not as long as it would have without the internet, but it is not instantaneous. The learning curve for community as a whole will be shorter and the trial & error iterations will come in quicker succession, but, the trajectory of progress will be the same.

Second thing I learned was the enormous breakthrough of this technology. It is not only that communication is immediate, it is not only that it is bi-directional, it is that anyone, anywhere, at any time can say what he or she wishes to say. The magnitude of the breakthrough dawned on me one day in 1995- November 4th, to be exact.

As I was casually chatting with username Mojgan from Tel Aviv, she left the conversation abruptly, then returned a minute or so later to say Yitzhak Rabin had just been shot outside her house! Here I was: a disaffected Iranian in New York, sitting at my desk in my house, and I knew about this world event before Reuters, before BBC, and perhaps even before the Israeli cabinet. This is something without parallel in history of mankind. The transformations that societies will go though in the next few generations will make any other period look like time was near stand still before. This is a time of opportunity.

As for blogs, I was disappointed at first when I saw the threads. Nearly every participant is anonymous. There is so much insult and profanity, and so little curiosity or scholarship. Mostly, it is opinions- personal, emotional, improvised opinions. Seems like everyone wants to lead or teach, and nobody wants to follow or learn. Worst of all, it is an embarrassing showcase of our sometimes angry, biased, divided society. How could it be of any use?

I wanted to suggest there should be moderators. But, the more I think about it, the more I think it should be left alone- insults, profanity and all. For one thing, it is an honest reflection of our community. If nothing else has worked, taking an honest look at our collective wisdom can’t be that bad. For another, the best advertisement against immaturity and ignorance is to shine a light on it.

It is possible that bickering will turn a majority off and knowledge will attract notice in discussions. Those posting anonymously or those who attack others will be ignored in time. People who show respect and argue in earnest will enjoy greater esteem. In short, you must have faith that freedom of speech will work, and that eventually the good will outweigh the bad that can come from it.

This too I learned from my experience with I thought I was committed to free speech then, but I wasn’t. I excluded “hatred, obscenity and violence” from discussions. That was a mistake akin to putting lipstick on a pig. was different from the beginning. Mr. Javid has artfully avoided imposing his sensitivities on expression all along. That’s why you seldom feel his presence. That’s why is more like town square than ministry of information. That’s why is so rich and diverse. That’s why it continues to grow and serve.

Now that the blog has opened the floodgates to a new set of (potential) headaches, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Javid continues to let the chips fall where they may. Regardless, he will have my support, as well as my continued admiration.

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

Recipient Of The Serena Shim Award

Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!