Can Iraqis Tweet Their Way To Normalcy?

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, talks to reporters at a press conference at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. "Breakfast time ... Lots of helicopters ... Met the president of Iraq ... Amazing palace." Tweet by Tweet, the trip to Baghdad by Jack Dorsey unfolded on the Twitter network he co-founded. Dorsey was joined by executives from some of Web's powerhouses such as YouTube and Google to talk about possible high-tech appetites in a place that still can't guarantee round-the-clock electricity.(AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

"Breakfast time ... Lots of helicopters ... Met the president of Iraq ... Amazing palace."

Tweet by tweet, the trip to Baghdad by Jack Dorsey unfolded on the Twitter network he co-founded.

One of his stops Wednesday: A discussion at the U.S. Embassy with executives from other Web powerhouses such as YouTube and Google on the possible high-tech horizons in a place that still can't guarantee round-the-clock electricity and whose Internet service is lumbering at best.

Their trip to Iraq's capital, sponsored by the State Department, was billed as a way to assess the faint stirrings of Iraq's online culture and possibly inspire future Iraqi Web entrepreneurs.

"There's no question that there are a lot of challenges here ... but there are also a lot of opportunities," Jason Liebman, chief executive officer of the how-to video site Howcast, said during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy.

Also on the trip were executives from AT&T, the networking site Meetup and Blue State Digital, which had a role in the online outreach of President Barack Obama's campaign.

It's estimated just 5 percent of Iraqis have Web access at home and the connection speed can harken back to the dial-up days of the 1980s. However, users can get faster connections at Internet cafes and the Web access on their cell phones.

Zain, one of Iraq's mobile phone providers, has 700,000 subscribers with Internet-capable cell phones, the executives said.

This was the avenue the executives found most promising for Iraqis to someday embrace social networking: through their beloved mobile phones.

Many Iraqis - especially the young - depend on mobile service as a more reliable alternative to outdated landlines. Text messages are hugely popular.

Dorsey said the executives want to figure out "how technologies like the ones that we work with may help the situation here and may help things move a little big faster."

At times, the goals got a bit lofty, echoing the State Department's encouragement of technology as a way to encourage political participation and battle corruption in developing countries.

In one of his tweets, Dorsey wrote: "Talking to Iraqis to figure out if technologies like Twitter can help bring transparency, accessibility and stability to the area."

But he also learned firsthand how unplugged Iraq can be.

He noted in a tweet that he finally found a wi-fi network in the presidential palace.

"Catching up on the rest of the world," he wrote. "Lots going on out there!"
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