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The Globe and Mail

Tech companies rally to give Egyptians voice

An Egyptian man uses his mobile phone to take a picture of the Arcadia shopping center, that was looted, damaged and set on fire by people in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday Jan. 30, 2011.

Lefteris Pitarakis/Lefteris Pitarakis/The Associated Press

As hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Cairo today to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's reign, the communications blackout limited the amount of information flowing out of Egypt. However, it's clear from what we're seeing online that technology, whether it's reporters using satellite phones or companies scrambling to help Egyptians circumvent restrictions, is helping Egyptians voice their discontent.

Protesters from Iran to Tunisia have relied on Twitter to communicate. But while Egypt has cracked down on Internet and cellular connectivity, tech companies are stepping up to try to ensure the tool is still available.

On Friday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote a post entitled, The Tweets Must Flow, reinforcing his company's position on freedom of expression. Over the weekend Google worked, along with help from Twitter and a newly acquired company called SayNow, to launch a new service that's helping Egyptians get the word out. Speak To Tweet lets anyone call an international number and leave a voicemail tweet, which will instantly be shared on Twitter using the hashtag #egypt. As Google says on its blog, they are hoping this tool will help "people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time."

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While there are reports coming out of Egypt now detailing problems with cellular connectivity, there is no doubt that Twitter is having a significant impact on how both citizens and journalists are sharing minute-by-minute news during the mostly peaceful demonstrations.

According to Sysomos, a software services company, crisis-related tweets grew from just more than one hundred thousand during the week of January 16th to more than a million starting the week of January 24th. They also released a chart detailing the most popular keywords associated with these messages, which include solidarity, people, and support.

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