More analysis of Twitter's role in Moldova

Now that I have had more time to reflect on what actually happened in Moldova and chat to a few more people, here are some temporary conclusions on the role that Twitter played and didn't play. 

 1. One paradox is that there are relatively few Twitter users in Moldova to start with. Google search shows only around 70 who list their location as Moldova. This could mean several things: a) they didn't choose Moldova when they registered for Twitter - for various reasons (some may have chosen Romania for political reasons, some may have decided not to choose anything at all, which is also an option) b) the number of users IN Moldova is really small but Moldovans elsewhere managed to keep the meme among Twitter's most popular ones c) Twitter played a much smaller role than we think. 

2. Moldovans abroad played an important role by participating in the protests remotely by helping to keep the story alive via Twitter. Watching the reaction of the Twittosphere to my own previous post, I saw that a large proporition of users with Romanian-sounding names actually seem to be based elsewhere in Europe. It's interesting how Twitter has given them an option to participate in the protests remotely by simply "buzzing" about the story.

3. It really helped that even non-technology people in the U.S. and much of Western Europe are currently head over heels in love with Twitter. It's really good that the Moldovan students didn't organize this revolution via Friendster or LiveJournal (which is still a platform for choice for many users in Eastern Europe). If they did, they would never have gotten as much attention from the rest of the world.

4. The use of Twitter has been limited to mobilization of some local supporters and raising international awareness. It didn't really help much in coordinating actions of people who ARE already on the square, in part because they are offline. My Moldovan friends are telling me that a technology that would really help in that public square would not be Twitter, but a good and loud megaphone. When you have angry and disorganized crowds, you don't need decentralized platforms - you want to centralize instead. This shows a potential limitation of Twitter, especially given the speculation that the government may have cracked down both on the Internet and mobile communications. Another related lesson - as evidenced in Burma's protests in 2007 - the more sattelite phones there are in the country, the better.

5. There were some major differences with the Orange Revolution events in Ukraine. Here are just a few innovations that we have observed in Moldova that we didn't see five years ago:  a) the ability to keep the story in the international news by "hijacking" the Twitter conversations b) the ability for Moldovans abroad to join in c) the availability of much more user-generated content directly from the field.

That said, I should point out that the civil society sector in Moldova are not exactly a bunch of new media novices.  I remember going to Chisinau myself in the summer of 2007 to deliver a couple of new media workshops which were targeting the NGO community (that was back when I was still working for Transitions Online). Well, at least it looks that some of my workshops weren't in vain :-)

Also, last year I had a chance to meet Oleg Brega, one of the most active Moldovan activists (he also runs a popular Moldovan blog Curaj and keeps posting updates from the square). I was very impressed by his almost uncanny ability to rely on the Internet (as well as mobile and video technologies) to bring public attention to his causes (a typical Brega stunt: provoking the Moldovan police to arrest him and have someone capture this on video and then republish to YouTube). You can check a full list of his (and his brother's) great video provocations here.