Twitter boss wants more 'tweets' in Iraq

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 24 2009 11:09 PM | Updated as of Apr 25 2009 07:09 AM

BAGHDAD - The founder and chairman of micro-blogging service Twitter said during a visit to Baghdad on Wednesday that the US election had convinced him to try and get more people "tweeting" in Iraq.

Jack Dorsey, among nine executives on a US State Department organised trip, held discussions with local mobile telephone companies and said he is determined to ensure that Iraqis could use Twitter on their handsets.

"We definitely have an intention to get it going here," he said, sat alongside bosses from top US IT giants Google and YouTube.

"I spoke to my business development person last night and said 'can we work with these people?'. We intend to do it."

Twitter, which allows users to pepper their followers with messages of a maximum 140 characters, known as updates or "tweets", can be used on mobile phones or through the Internet.

Dorsey invented the popular service in 2006 and led by example by using it to inform his friends that he had met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

"Met the President of Iraq at his house this morn. Amazing palace and an enlightening conversation," he said in a Wednesday update.

Eighty-five percent of Iraqis have mobile phones, compared to a home broadband penetration rate of only five percent, which Dorsey said meant using handsets was the way ahead.

"The thing we saw in the US election was the transparency it brought to government. I have never felt closer to what was going on," Dorsey said.

"A lot of Iraqis are interested in government, whether good or bad, so I'd like to see the same happen here," he added, noting that he had received two updates from Iraqis during his stay in the country.

Dorsey met representatives from Zain and Asiacell, two of the major mobile operators in Iraq, and said there are four other carriers that Twitter will look at partnering with.

"The (mobile) carriers we talked to last night went from 300,000 subscriptions to 10 million in two years, so there is amazing potential," he said.

An earlier Dorsey tweet on Wednesday detailed that he had "talked with a great bunch of students & professors at the technology university" but "unfortunately had to leave early due to a security issu (sic)."

He played down the message when quizzed by reporters however, insisting that the delegation had left early because of a timing issue and not because they were in any danger.

The technology executives, who arrived on Sunday and will leave tomorrow also met government representatives and students as well as private companies during the trip.

They also spoke to Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh by telephone, although they planned to meet him later Wednesday.

"It got disconnected and we had to call back a number of times, which shows some of the difficulties we face," a State Department official joked.

Several of the technology bosses said they saw future business opportunities in Iraq but admitted it was early days for a country that is still plagued by car bombings and suicide attacks.

"I was struck yesterday by a woman who had a streak of colour in her hair -- those are the people everywhere who will tell you the truth," said Hunter Walk, director of product management for the video-sharing website YouTube.

"When she hears about something that has happened in Baghdad she goes on to YouTube. That is a big plus for us."