Goodness Gracious, Not So Great Firewall Of China

I mentioned in passing yesterday Clay Shirky’s views on Twitter and events in Iran. Well, you can never have enough of the man and this is worth 17 minutes of your life.

Recorded last month and posted in the last couple of days by, this compelling restatement of the web as media revolution was delivered to an audience in the US State department.

In it he argues that the web marks the fifth generation of media revolution. Why? Two reasons:

1. For the first time media is natively good at supporting one-to-one AND many-to-many conversations.

2. As all media gets digitised, the internet becomes the mode of carriage for all other media – phone calls migrate to the internet, magazines migrate to the internet, movies migrate to the internet.

Elsewhere he makes an important point that’s bleeding obvious to all but the bleeding edge:

Tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society – it’s when everybody is able to take them for granted.

Most compelling, however, is his take on the last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake.

Famously, Twitter scooped the world’s media with locals and tourists alike reporting events well in advance of the rolling news channels.

The outpouring of real-time reporting, photos and videos also served to unsettle the Chinese government which had prided itself in having web censorship to shame fellow autocracies.

So why did China get caught short? Simple, says Shirky:

[The Great Firewall of China is a] set of observation points that assume that media is produced by professionals, that it mostly comes in from the outside world, it comes in relatively sparse chunks, and it comes in relatively slowly. And because of those four characteristics they are able to filter it as it comes into the country.

Which meant….

Like the Maginot Line, the Great Firewall of China was facing in the wrong direction for this challenge because not one of those four things was true in this environment. The media was produced locally, it was produced by amateurs, it was produced quickly and it was produced at such an incredible abundance that there was no way to filter it as it appeared.

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