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Iran: Balatarin, a successful citizen media story

Mehdi Yahyanejad is the founder of the very successful Balatarin site. Balatarin (which means ‘the highest’ in Persian) is a community website through which users can post links to webpages of their interest, with an emphasis on the Iranian audience. The underlying idea is a mixture of reddit, digg, newsvine, and del.icio.us.

In less than two years Balatarin has become a valuable source of information and communication. In this interview Mehdi, who holds a PhD at Physics from MIT and is also currently co-founder and CEO of Adoptic.com, shares with us his Balatrin adventure.

Please tell us when you started Balatarin and how you evaluate its success. Any statistics?

I launched Balatarin on August 16, 2006. So far there have been 300,000 news summaries posted on the site. 5 million votes and 1 million comments have also been entered. I, however, evaluate Balatarin's success beyond its statistics: Balatarin is widely read by Iranian journalists and bloggers in and outside of Iran. As a result, the discussions taking place on Balatarin get coverage in multiple countries and platforms.

You used Digg as a model. Do you think an Iranian facebook will become popular too?

Yes. I think that having a Persian facebook that encompasses Iranian universities and high schools can be very attractive. Obviously, it depends on how well the site is designed.

How is the weight of bloggers in Balatarin?

Quite a bit. Most of the active users are bloggers. Balatarin is also the place for Persian bloggers to get wide coverage for what they write. Blog posts that are submitted to Balatarin often get more comments than the original posts on the blogs.

Balatarin was a leap forward for citizen media for Iranians. How you see the development of citizen media in the country?

Iran had a head start in citizen media by being one of the first countries where blogging became widely popular. However, it hasn't been able to follow up with the pace. Any type of citizen media, even if it's online, needs to be promoted by meet-ups and seminars as well as businesses which support its survival. This has not been the case in Iran.

Are you planning to launch an English version of Balatarin?

Not any time soon. At the moment, I am focusing on another project, Adoptic.com, which was inspired by my experience in Balatarin. The idea is to allow bloggers to promote their content by using their own and other fellow blog spaces. I am trying to create a very smooth way of content discovery and promotion. There are also a ton of cool algorithms being used in the process.

Any ideas to share with our audience?

I try to keep myself exposed to new ideas. It's very easy to be consumed with what we do everyday. Something what I do, is I buy a new and random magazine each time I fly. This exposes me to ideas from many different domains.

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