About Balatarin

Balatarin ("the highest" in Persian) is the first and largest interactive link-sharing news website in Persian. Founded in 2006, Balatarin’s mission is to enable users to identify, share and provide access to news and views of the greatest interest to Iranians around the world.

Balatarin does not generate news independently but is a hub of unfiltered information and commentary shared freely by individuals who are accountable to no-one but themselves. Increasingly, Balatarin has developed into a forum for a civil exchange of ideas and is the only medium of scale where Iranians of diverse socio-political, ethnic, and religious orientations trade news and personal observations voluntarily and without fear of persecution.

Balatarin is not a news agency but as a unique archive of news and analysis related to Iran dating from 2006, serves as a major resource for journalists, researchers and scholars.

Balatarin is based in the U.S. and has a wide readership in the North America, the Middle East, and Europe. The website is blocked by the government in Iran, but users circumvent the hurdle by using proxy servers.


How it Works

Balatarin enables registered users to post links to articles and blogs of their choice; the posts appear on the “recently posted” page where registered users vote on their relevance and/or importance as they see fit. Once a link gets enough favorable votes, it is moved to the top of the page where it obtains the highest visibility, hence the name, "Balatarin."


History

Balatarin was founded in the U.S. on August 16, 2006 by Mehdi Yahyanejad--a PhD in physics (MIT) and a 1993 bronze medalist in the International Physics Olympiad--mainly to enable and encourage Iranian bloggers to connect with each other. As the network expanded, the website attracted a general readership. By 2008, Balatarin was widely known among Iranians as a trustworthy, user-facilitated news site that was free of censorship and refreshingly non-ideological; as such, it came to play a critical role in the pro-democracy, "Green" movement in Iran during the disputed 2009 presidential election.

 

Throughout the presidential campaign and the ensuing unrest and violent government crackdown, activists used Balatarin to track minute-by-minute developments and to explore optional tactics for expressing their demands and achieving their objectives. Balatarin is where human rights abuses committed against the protesters by the security forces and the judicial apparatus were first publicized. The government accused Balatarin of being complicit--along with Facebook and Twitter--in promoting a velvet revolution in Iran. Balatarin was banned early on and has remained blocked, which forces users in Iran to access it through proxy servers.

 

The tug of war continues today. Balatarin is regularly attacked on the state-run radio and TV, and daily in the regime’s unofficial and lurid newspaper, Kayhan. These media accuse Balatarin of having ties to a string of ‘anti-regime,’ ‘anti-Islamic’ suspects—Zionists, CIA, BBC, the Baha’is, and other offensive agencies. 

 

Today, Balatarin continues to operate as an independent news hub whose mission is to enable the community to share news and views that matter to them personally, without fear, and regardless of their political leanings. It welcomes all categories of news, including politics, sports, science and technology, travel and tourism, education, culture, and entertainment, but prohibits pornography, indecent language, articles advocating violence, and unauthorized use of copyrighted material.

 

New Initiatives

Balatarin has expanded its operations to include two new initiatives, Balamusic, which launched in 2011, and Balavision:Dialogue for Democracy, slated to launch in late December 2012.

    BalamusicBalamusic is a virtual concert stage that showcases performances selected by Balatarin users. The program was launched on April 5, 2011 with a live recital by the highly acclaimed Iranian soprano, Darya Dadvar. More than 3,000 Balatarin users greeted the program with a warm applause, with just over 1,000 attending in Iran and about 2,000 in the US, Canada, Germany, UK, Sweden, The Netherlands, Malaysia, and the UAE. Dadvar delighted her audience with music exclusively picked for the occasion and then took questions from her Balatarin fans. Since then, users have posted links to a wide variety of musical genres, from Khorasani, Kurdish, and Armenian folk music to classical and contemporary Western music, to popular Persian orchestral music of the Golhaye-Javidan variety, to music performed by their favorite vocalists, instrumentalists, and bands, old and young. 

Balavision is a web-based, live video streaming channel whose mission is to promote democracy and freedom of expression among Iranian activists. The programs cover the concepts, institutions, history and practices that embody the notion of democracy. They offer guidance on how to maintain a healthy, civil, and productive dialogue; how to establish and refine a transparent decision making process; and in an age where digital media are key to information collection, communication and organization, how to ensure Internet security. 




More than 100 broadcasts will air over two years in four main suites: (1) Guidelines, (2) Interviews, (3) Debates, and (4) Internet Security. Users have the opportunity to propose interviewees and vote on them ahead of time, and to pose questions to the presenters and their guests prior to and during the broadcasts. The programs may be downloaded for future viewing; transcripts and audio files will also be made available to make them as accessible as possible. 

 

Technical Features

Balatarin’s unique credibility point system is designed to avoid problems faced by similar websites such as digg.com. Each user’s credibility increases over time based on their activities and contributions to Balatarin. The credibility score of each user in turn determines the level of activity they are allowed in each 24-hour period. This system prevents overactive, inexperienced, and/or malicious users from lowering the quality of Balatarin. It also makes it possible to distinguish between authentic and fabricated user-submitted news from Iran because the items posted are vetted by a large network of Balatarin users.

Balatarin is developed on Ruby on Rails. It is one of the top 20 most visited websites written in the Rails web application framework.

Balatarin is testing a new service to translate its stories into English; the program is in alpha testing and can be visited here. We also have an English blog called Voice of Balatarin. The entries are the summary of discussions taking place on Balatarin.



The Numbers

  • 20 to 30 million:  monthly page views 
  • 500,000+: story submissions to Balatarin to date
  • 8 million: user comments
  • 15 minutes: average time spent by each visitor on the website (which is considerably higher than the industry standard)   

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