Back in March, I launched a little site called Quietube, which is basically a little bookmarklet allowing you to watch YouTube videos without all the comments, ads and so on (original booktwo post is here).
Well, it turned out to be very popular, currently edging towards two million views, with a daily average of 10 to 20 thousand visits. These are not small numbers.
However, looking at the logs, it became clear that these visits were coming from unexpected sources. The vast majority of visits are from the Gulf region. A few weeks ago (a fairly typical week of 115,438 visits), 74,983 were from Saudi Arabia, 10,367 from Kuwait, 4,383 from the UAE, with Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt all in the top ten.
Wondering what was going on, I took a look at the top ranked videos for that week:
- #1: http://quietube.com/v.php/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMkfTot5Q0w&feature=sub
- #2: http://quietube.com/v.php/http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5dt-WREldg&feature=related
- #4: http://quietube.com/v.php/http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT91-g9AE4g
- #6: http://quietube.com/v.php/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcciNlpvXTM
- #7: http://quietube.com/v.php/youtube.com/watch?v=3b0BixzZmVo
- #8: http://quietube.com/v.php/http:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z58Aplho6tY
- #10: http://quietube.com/v.php/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz0ogl5r9_8
Short version: they’re all in Arabic. (#3 and #5 were both: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZKZs0c2R5s – Make of that what you will. #9 is the Quietube homepage. )
Not knowing Arabic, I contacted a friend who does. Turns out they’re a range of religious and secular programmes from a range of channels – including a clip from Faraj al-Farj, the Saudi version of Candid Camera – all fairly standard stuff.
I was particularly interested that the vast, vast majority of identifiable inbound links seemed to originate from private email accounts – Hotmail, Yahoo and Google Mail in particular.
It also turns out that YouTube is quite heavily censored in the Middle East (observation from a range of news reports – I’d be interested in seeing a proper report on this), and people are using Quietube to get round this.
So it turns out, I think I accidentally created a YouTube proxy being used by tens of thousands of people in the Middle East. I’m not sure if I should be writing about it, but if it’s that easy to do, I’m sure others can do it too. It’s just a matter of embedding the video elsewhere, and it shows how extraordinarily flexible the digital systems we build are. Information does indeed want to be free.
The internet is a wondrous thing.