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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 March, 2005, 08:44 GMT
Persian blogging round the globe
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

Iranian internet user
Millions of Iranians view the internet as a place to express themselves

For Iranians living outside of Iran, the internet has become a lifeline, a way not only to stay in touch with friends and family back home, but also to stay connected to Iranian culture no matter where they are.

Hossein Derakhshan, who keeps a weblog under the name of Hoder, has already made a name for himself in the Persian-language blogosphere.

He created the script that allows Iranians to keep online diaries in their native Persian language. But now, Derakhshan has taken his online activities to next level.

He is now producing an audio blog, or podcast.

Crackdown started

Derakhshan's road to podcasting began five years ago in Tehran, where he worked for a reformist newspaper. The Iranian authorities began a crackdown against such publications beginning in 2000.

Between the government's increasingly heavy hand and the lack of job opportunities for young people, the 30-year-old Derakhshan decided to leave the country.

He moved with his wife to Toronto, Canada in 2001.

During the last two or three years, Iranian blogging has flourished
Hadi Ghaemi
In September of that year, just a few weeks after the World Trade Center attacks in New York City, Derakhshan started blogging.

The personal, online accounts of people affected by the attacks convinced him of the power of keeping an online diary.

His decision to create the computer script for Persian-language blogging came naturally.

"I wanted to stay connected to Iranian culture, especially the youth culture," Derakhshan says.

"And I wanted to find a way to stay in touch with my readers from my days at the newspaper."

'Flourishing blogs'

Derakhshan's work sparked an explosion in Persian-language blogs.

One estimate puts the numbers of bloggers inside Iran at 46,000, and Derakhshan says there may be as many as 75,000 active Persian-language blogs worldwide.

"During the last two or three years, Iranian blogging has flourished," says Hadi Ghaemi, a native Iranian who now works for Human Rights Watch in New York City.

"In fact, blogging has become the main medium for information, new, analysis and exchange of information for Iranians, both inside and outside the country."

Derakhshan wanted to build on that trend. Just a few months ago, he launched a podcast called Radio Hoder. He's currently offering both a Persian and English version.

Podcasting takes its name from the Apple iPod.

A podcast is a radio programme that can be downloaded, and listened to directly on a computer or an MP3 player.

The programmes can be made by anyone with some basic recording equipment, a computer with editing software, and some server space to host the MP3 files.

'Totally controlled'

The radio available in Iran is either totally controlled by the government, or by exiles living in Los Angeles
Hossein Derakhshan

"The radio available in Iran is either totally controlled by the government, or by exiles living in Los Angeles," says Derakhshan.

"The amount of accurate information or political debate is limited to these two types of sources.

Radio Hoder, its creator says, will offer Iranians more choice.

"With podcasts, they can actually produce something and contribute to the political debate and social debate, which doesn't exist in Iran except on the internet."

There are drawbacks to Persian podcasting, though.

For Derakhshan, the biggest problem is that recording, editing, mixing and uploading a podcast is time consuming.

Would-be podcasters inside Iran, many of whom connect to the internet through dial-up modems or at internet cafes, would face some technical hurdles.

Those inside Iran looking for podcasts might have a hard time finding them.

The Iranian government regularly filters content from outside of Iran that it deems counter-revolutionary.

The Iranian government might also choose to censor anyone who tries podcasting from inside Iran.

The recent arrests of more than two dozen webloggers and cyber-journalists do not bode particularly well for podcasters.

Another potential issue for Iranian podcasters is the hosting services provided by companies in the United States.

Many Iranians use American internet service providers to host their blogs and websites. But that hosting may be in jeopardy.

Recently, a US service provider suddenly stopped hosting the website of Iran's student-run news agency, ISNA.

"We're having internet service providers for websites in Iran closing down those websites without giving any reason," says Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch. Iranian podcasts could suffer the same fate.

Actively podcast

Hossein Derakhshan admits that Iranian podcasts might not prove as influential as blogs in the short term.

But in the longer term, as podcasts become technically easier to produce and more people are able to listen to them, he says that may change. Toward that end, he says he's going to actively podcast in the lead-up to the Iranian elections this spring.

Derakhshan plans to interview Iranian scholars and journalists, both inside and outside the country, whose voices Derakhshan feels aren't heard enough.

"Anyone who takes podcasting seriously could have a very big effect, even on the elections," says Derakhshan.

"Maybe even some of the mainstream Iranian media will pick up the podcasts, and distribute them in a much broader way, to an even larger audience."

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production.

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