The Iranian Flickr group celebrated an unlikely anniversary last week.
The group, made up of photo enthusiasts who post their images on the immensely popular Yahoo-owned photo sharing site, gathered in Tehran to mark one year of existence. Flickr is composed of thousands of groups, and real-world "meetups," as they're called, are common, but not in Iran, where the site is blocked by the government.
The group's one-year anniversary meetup and the 16,000 photos that members have managed to post online despite their government's restrictions are testaments to the members' enthusiasm for photography and their ingenuity in bypassing official censors.
The key to the success of the Iranian Flickr users has been a technical workaround created by the group's administrator, Hamed Saber. Saber created a plug-in for the Firefox Web browser that allows Iranians to post and view photos on Flickr, despite the government's attempt to thwart such activity.
"In my country, unfortunately, the flickr.com is banned," writes Saber on the download page for his plug-in. "I'm a fan of that photo-archive website, so I wrote this extension just to help my dear friends who can not access flickr.com from Iran."
The plug-in, called Access Flickr! (addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ 4286), is free and available to anybody who needs it, specifically photographers in the United Arab Emirates and China, where Flickr is also banned.
"I think all human beings have the right to choose what is good and what is bad for themselves," he said in an interview earlier this year with the online international news site Global Voices. "The 'Big Brother' theory is not logical and ethical to me."
The Iranian group -- found at flickr.com/groups/iranian -- ranks among the best and most active on Flickr. And knowing the effort these talented photographers have gone through to share their work with the world makes them all that much better.
Google speaks up
Google wants the public to know what it thinks in areas that go far beyond search engines. The company has rolled out a public policy blog (googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com) where it offers "Google's views on government, policy and politics."
The site has been around as an internal company blog since April but was made available to the public last week.
"We're seeking to do public policy advocacy in a Googley way," wrote Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of public policy and government affairs. "Yes, we're a multinational corporation that argues for our positions before officials, legislators and opinion leaders. At the same time, we want our users to be part of the effort, to know what we're saying and why, and to help us refine and improve our policy positions and advocacy strategies. With input and ideas from our users, we'll surely do a better job of fighting for our common interests. This blog is part of the dialogue we're hoping to foster."
Google actually isn't even the first company out there to harness blogs as a public policy vehicle. Cisco (blogs.cisco.com/gov/) and Verizon (policyblog.verizon.com) have had policy blogs up for a while now.
But with Google now testing the waters in this area, it's likely just a matter of time before every company big and small launches a similar blogging initiative. Lobbying might never be the same.