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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Global voices speak through blogs
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

Blogging has taken off all over the world
Online diaries, or weblogs, have grown to become powerful tools for communication in the past few years.

Their reach is growing outside of North America and Western Europe.

From Tashkent, to Timbuktu, to Tegucigalpa, global blogging is on the rise and now, a group of dedicated bloggers is working to ensure that those global voices are heard.

Called Global Voices the group and website grew out of a Harvard conference held last December.

It brought together bloggers from places like Iraq, Latvia, Malaysia and China.

Ethan Zuckerman is not just the co-editor of Global Voices, he is also a passionate and prolific blogger himself.

"What blogs are doing for the first time is letting people talk about what's going in their own universe, in their own local news, and get it out to a global audience," he says.

Inspired by these bloggers and their stories, Dr Zuckerman, set up the Global Voices website.

"It's our sincere hope that by attaching people and stories to issues and countries, we're going to have a real impact as far as getting people interested in stories that otherwise they may not pay attention to," he explains.

I think young Kenyans all over Kenya, are lacking a vehicle for expressing themselves and participating in the country
Ory Okolloh, Harvard student

His co-editor, Rebecca MacKinnon, is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and a "recovering television reporter." She worked for CNN in Asia for more than a decade.

She quit because she was fed up with the way mainstream media - especially in the US - covered international news.

It ignores many international stories, she says, and when it does tackle them it tends to reinforce stereotypes about foreign countries rather than shed new light on them.

"If bloggers are out there creating media and talking about things that the mainstream media isn't covering, that may also help push the mainstream media to recognise that there are a lot of things out there that people care about that they've simply failed to cover," she says.

Breakfast to strife

But the blogosphere is a noisy place. There are more than eight and half million bloggers, writing about everything from what happened in Kyrgyzstan to what they had for breakfast.

So the Global Voices website is picking and choosing.

It is highlighting what blogger Hossein Derakhshan calls "bridge bloggers." They are bloggers who, according to Mr Derakhshan: "can make a bridge between two languages, or two cultures."

Mr Derakhshan is originally from Iran, but he now lives in Canada and blogs under the name "Hoder" in both English and Persian. He has a large following in both languages.

He says bridge bloggers can serve as cultural interpreters.

"These are the people we need to start with to have a more and deeper understanding of what's going on in that other culture," he says.

Still, many bloggers do not necessarily feel an obligation to educate.

It would be terribly sad ... if that English-language blogosphere were to mirror all the biases and all the inadequacies and lacks of information that we see in mainstream media. That would be pathetic
Rebecca MacKinnon
"I write about what I want to write about, without any particular audience in mind," says Ory Okolloh, a student at Harvard Law School.

Ms Okolloh is originally from Kenya, and she publishes a blog called Kenyan Pundit which is featured on the Global Voices website.

Most of her fellow Kenyan bloggers are young people who prefer using blogs as their way of speaking out, she says.

"More people should be listening to the voices, and more people should have a chance to contribute," says Ms Okolloh.

"I think young Kenyans all over Kenya, are lacking a vehicle for expressing themselves and participating in the country."

There are significant hurdles though to getting more people to contribute to blogs.

In developing countries, it is hard for most people to even get online.

Atanu Dey, an Indian economist and blogger, says it is a lot easier for people in rural India to read a newspaper, than a blog.

"Blogs require a deeper infrastructure," he says. "You need to have electricity, internet access, computers, and you need to be able to sit there and browse the blog.

"So, it's going to be a while before blogs and the blogosphere includes within it rural India."

Lost in translation?

There are also language barriers. There are more than 75,000 blogs worldwide in Persian, for example.

But blogger Hossein Derakhshan says there is no reliable online translation program for Persian.

Man reading newspapers
Newspapers are the traditional way to find out what is going on
That means if you do not understand Persian, you are missing out on a lot of valuable information, he says.

"You're missing probably millions of people," says Mr Derakhshan. "The real genuine voices of the Iranian people are those in Persian weblogs, in the Persian language."

Perhaps the toughest task, though, will be getting the English-language blogosphere to care about such voices.

Ms MacKinnon says that many English-language bloggers are oblivious to what is going on in other countries.

The goal of Global Voices, she says, is to open up the online conversation.

The website, says Ms MacKinnon, wants to point out that: "here are important things that people, that bloggers around the world are talking about and that are meaningful to them, that bloggers in the English-language space should care about."

"It would be terribly sad," she says, "if that English-language blogosphere were to mirror all the biases and all the inadequacies and lacks of information that we see in mainstream media. That would be pathetic."

The Global Voices project considers itself a work in progress.

"Not only is nothing written in stone," jokes co-editor Dr Zuckerman, "Nothing's even scratched in mud."

The group invites anyone to contribute, especially by pointing out great blogs from across the globe.

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


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