Can Iraqis 'tweet' their way to a state of normalcy?

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

twitter bird 88 248  (photo credit: Courtesy)
twitter bird 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"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 US Embassy with executives from other Web powerhouses such as YouTube and Google on the possible hi-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 on-line 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 US Embassy. Also on the trip were executives from AT&T, the networking site Meetup and Blue State Digital, which had a role in the on-line outreach of President Barack Obama's campaign. It's estimated that just 5 percent of Iraqis have Web access at home, and the connection speed can hearken back to the dial-up days of the 1980s. However, users can get faster connections at Internet cafes and the Web access on their cellphones. Zain, one of Iraq's mobile-phone providers, has 700,000 subscribers with Internet-capable cellphones, the executives said. This was the avenue the executives found most promising for Iraqis to someday embrace social networking: through their beloved cellphones. Many Iraqis - especially the young - depend on mobile service as a more reliable alternative to outdated land lines. 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!"