Phone Tweets Trickling Out of Egypt

As the Hosni Mubarak regime continues its internet and mobile-phone blackout, telephonic tweets from inside Egypt are trickling out and being translated, thanks to Google, Twitter and some heavy-duty crowdsourcing.

Egyptians, or anybody with phone access across the globe, can dial one of several phone numbers and leave a voice message. The messages are hosted by the site SayNow, which Google acquired last week. A link to the message is automatically tweeted on the Twitter feed @speak2tweet.

Google announced the service Monday, and on Tuesday the tweets started being accompanied with a hashtag that displays the call’s country of origin. Landline service appears to be working in Egypt, and voice tweets, many in Arabic, are coming in around one a minute or so. The voice messages can also be heard by dialing the same numbers.

Engineers from Google and Twitter came up with the idea over the weekend. “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time,” Google said in a blog post.

The service is just one of a myriad of workarounds being offered to Egyptians, following the bulk of their communication services going dark Friday.

The voice messages are also being translated by about 50 people from across the globe, with the text posted at a new site called

“I need to be a free man, and better life for my kids. Please help us,” read one of the voice tweets from Egypt.

Ed Bice, the founder of, said the call was put out Monday night urging people to volunteer their time to translate those tweets into English and other languages.

“It’s one of the most powerful real-time, crowdsourced translation efforts I’ve ever seen,” Bice said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

Bice founded more than four year ago. The site, with servers in Portland, Oregon, offers machine-translated news in Arabic and English. Stories are then edited by humans and posted.

Meanwhile, at about noon PST, there were 883 tweets on @speak2tweet and more than 8,600 followers.

Given Egypt’s communication blackout, Brice said “not a ton of people in Egypt know about it.”

“Getting the word out,” he said, “it’s hard.”

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