Egypt: not a social media revolution

It’s said that Twitter and Facebook play an important role in the current Egyptian revolution, and that closing down the Internet was the best step the beleagured government could take. I don’t believe it.

21% of Egypt’s population is online, and 5% uses Facebook (source). In contrast, 66% has a mobile subscription (source: Tomi Ahonen’s Phone Book, p. 162.)

Facebook and Twitter play an important role in getting the news out to the blogosphere, but I don’t believe they’re very important otherwise.

I mean, you’re in the middle of a demonstration that amay turn very ugly at any time, and you want to call out to friends to join you, or want to find out what’s going on in another part of town. You have your trusty cheap Nokia in your hand. Which medium do you use?

SMS! All your friends have it, it relies on the mobile network and not the Internet the government has closed down, it’s easier to use (no starting up of apps), and you are automatically notified of any incoming messages, instead of having to check your social network time and again (or having your app do it, which drains your battery).

For the discerning revolutionary, SMS is the tool of choice.

But even more important than SMS in reaching the masses is good old television.

Fortunately it seems the Egyptian government actually believed the blogosphere’s self-satisfied description of the Tunisian revolution as Twitter- and Facebook-driven, and concentrated on the Internet first, while leaving open the mobile net for a while more (meanwhile voice is up again, but SMS is still down), and not doing much about Al-Jazeera, which is closed down only now.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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