Days ago the Egyptian government blocked access to the internet, including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. In response, Google has announced a little bit of "weekend work" intended to give Egyptian citizens the "the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection" via their new SayNow service:
We worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, a company we acquired last week, to make this idea a reality. It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.
Will Google's service be helpful to Egyptians? Here's what tech reporters are saying:
- Explaining the SayNow Service "SayNow is founded on a somewhat unlikely-sounding premise," explains Richard Waters at The Financial Times. "It’s a social media service that revolves around voice. Anyone trying to connect with a fanbase – say, a TV series or a band – can issue a phone number, then fans ring in to leave messages, or can hear ones left by other fans or by the stars they’re interested in. Once in a while the phone might get answered by a star in person.The rationale behind SayNow is that some people just prefer to connect with voice. But as the situation in Egypt demonstrates, there are other reasons why voice calls could have a long future in one-to-many internet communications."
- It's 'Dressed Up As a Philanthropic Gesture' but its more like a showcase to "promote the Saynow phone service it bought last month," figures Rob Coppinger at Inquirer.net. "While the Internet deprived population of the world's oldest advanced civilisation may appreciate a way of phoning in a tweet and making a call to listen to people's gibberish up to a maximum of 140 characters, they probably have more pressing matters like protecting their homes from looters." Also, Coppinger notes: "Google says the speak-a-tweet service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt but its not obvious looking at the twitter feed for that tag that huge numbers of people are using it."
- Not the Most Elegant Solution, "but it works and it shows that even though this is a US-based solution, the ingenuity of people seeking freedom can indeed be difficult to stop," blogs Rich Tehrani at TMCNet. There's caveats, of course: " The government could always cut off landlines too if they so chose and in theory that would put an end to this service being useful. Satellite users would be the exception of course. The government can also track the callers to the special international numbers Google has set up – and in repressive regimes, that can be a major problem for callers – especially if the protests die down."
- Message to Mubarak and His Ilk: There's Always a Workaround observes Sam Diaz at ZDNet: "It’s a powerful message that Google - as well as the people from Egypt who are already using the service - are sending to government’s who try to stifle Web-based communications. They may be able to pull the plug, but the innovative spirit in Silicon Valley will find a workaround."