Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Google, Twitter Offer Egyptians Option to Tweet By Voicemail

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptians, blocked from the Internet, are being offered a way by Google Inc. and Twitter to “tweet” by using a voice connection.

As opposition groups prepare to march in Cairo today, engineers at Google, Twitter and SayNow, a company Google acquired last week, are making it possible for Egyptians to stay connected. The service includes leaving a voicemail on an international phone numbers listed on Google’s official blog, which is instantly turned into a tweet.

“Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” Ujjwal Singh, co-founder of SayNow, and AbdelKarim Mardini, Google product manager for the Middle East and North Africa, wrote on the blog. “Over the weekend, we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service.”

The Google-Twitter service is just the latest option being made available to Egyptians to skirt the closure of the Internet. Web traffic volumes in Egypt slumped in a “coordinated fashion” shortly after midnight on Jan. 28 after demonstrators took to the streets demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, according to Internet security firm Arbor Networks.

Opposition groups have urged Egyptians back onto the streets to demand the resignation of 82-year-old Mubarak. The organizers, backed by former United Nations nuclear official Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood, aim to hold a 1- million-person march in the capital today.


More than 90 percent of Egypt’s Internet networks were down as of late yesterday, the Geneva-based nonprofit Internet Society said. The group couldn’t immediately provide a status report on Internet access today.

Old-fashioned dial-up connections to the Internet are another option Egyptians have been offered. At least 30 different dial-up services are being offered to circumvent the shutdown, Paris-based French Data Network, a group founded in 1992 to make data accessible, said yesterday. The group opened up one such “small window” on the Internet network to help Egyptians access the Web.

“This is definitely an open attack from a state against the Internet,” the group said in a statement on its Web site. “FDN has decided to open a small window on the network.”

FDN is giving them access on international lines through a dial-in number and entry codes.

“The infrastructure is already in place,” said Benjamin Bayart, the head of the association, in an interview. “As long as they have an international phone line, people can dial in.”

Mobile-phone voice services, run by local units of Vodafone Group Plc and France Telecom SA, were restored on Jan. 29, after the government ordered the companies to temporarily suspend operations.

Egypt has one of the most advanced telecommunications markets in the Middle East and Africa. About 95 percent of Egyptians, or 74.9 million subscribers, are clients of a mobile- phone network, according to analysts at Cairo-based AlembicHC.

--Editors: Vidya Root, Steve Rhinds

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Browning in London jbrowning9@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net.

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