Opening the floodgates

Making blog Better


Opening the floodgates
by MShahbodaghi

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.



Gotta work on it!

by AB (not verified) on

JJ and his people are gonna have a lot of work coming up with all the swear words possible in
Farsi and English!
But it will certainly change things around here, and for the better.
Profanity watch dog: I like your idea!


One more note...

by ProfanityWatchDog (not verified) on

I forgot to mention in my previous comment that obviously each profanity should have its own weight, eg, in a 0 to 10 scale, "fuck" has a weight of 5, "madar jendeh" has a weight of 10, "idiot" has a weight of 1, etc.
I am a programmer myself so I think this should be a fun project.


How to control profanity... in a democratic way...

by ProfanityWatchDog (not verified) on

Mr. Javid, is it possible to write a program code that does the following when someone clicks on "Flag as offensive"?
1. The comment is NOT removed nor edited.
2. A piece of program code looks for occurences of words that are considered offensive (eg, fuck, jendeh, koskesh, etc...)
3. That code is smart enough to know that "F-u-c-k" is the same than "fuck". There are algorithms that are publicly available for this purpose. All you need is just a list of words.
4. If the program finds such words, a point is added to the author's "profanity" rating.
5. That rating is displayed automatically next to his name.
Let's say you use a profanity scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being used for the most rude ones. Then if a reader sees a comment from someone with a profanity rating of, say, 7 or more, he/she can choose to simply ignore it and move on to the next comment. You are not remvoving any comments nor editing them, but you are giving the readers a way to decide for themselves and to choose their own tolerance level.


the new version of

by Monda (not verified) on

Jahanshah and Mahmoud, Nice to read your replies, confirming my overwhelm with the quality of published material on the new site. My routine of reading selected writings on when I need a break, has been replaced by walking two miles around the office and paying extra attention to my dog at night time! Not that I don't enjoy my walks, but I feel behind catching up with my brain's better half (the iranian part)!

I'm not attracted to most of the headings on the new site and I find it time consuming to locate the good pieces. I know, I know it takes time to develop the technique of finding the worthwhile articles and comments.... but I do miss the old site.
This new format as you explained, does slap our collective intellectual diversity in my face.... even if I don't feel like constantly being reminded of that.


Good observations. Obviously

by MM (not verified) on

Good observations. Obviously from experience which makes it more solid and valid.
Lately I was not coming back to this site as often as I had in the past, basically because of all the "trash" being thrown around (as jahanshah puts it" ONLY for the sake of being insulting").
A cross section of our society is portrayed here.
I believe -as a layman- that democracy has to be learned, it doesn't come naturally. Have you seen any really young kids being democratic when they play?
Hopefully the solution, as pointed out, is "Time".
Time will tell!


Jahanshah, comment more

by manesh on

I wish you'd comment more and give everybody a "progress report"

Aside from problems with constant attacks, I also have technical problems For example, it's near impossible to find a blog once it leaves the most viewed list.  Also, the editor doesn't "wrap" text as I type.  Some of the math problems at the bottom are too hard for me to solve too :)

Anyone else notice these problems? 


Thank you. Highly insightful

by Anonymous on

Thank you.
Highly insightful piece.

Jahanshah Javid

Power of words

by Jahanshah Javid on

Hey Mahmoud! Thanks for your thoughtful words. I have great respect for you. It does seem that over time the quality of comments has improved. I have removed some that were just too vulgar and all they did was provoke others to curse.

I have no problems with someone saying "Fuck Islam", "Fuck Bush" or "Fuck the author" if someone is trying to make a point, beit an angry or hateful one. But is they use every insult in the book ONLY for the purpose of being insulting, then I might hit delete.

You mentioned time... time is indeed the key. Once people realize they cannot kill, strangle, or out-shout another person for their opinion, they realize the only weapon they have left is words and power of reason. And in this dense jungle of words, the best and strongest ideas will survive.