It was about 11 a.m. eastern time on Friday morning when cable news channels broadcast the historic announcement: Hosni Mubarak would bow to protesters’ demands and resign.
If you weren’t watching CNN or refreshing the home page of The New York Times every 30 seconds, you might not have heard the news right away. So Ian Mansfield, a London-based blogger and photographer, decided to answer the question everybody was asking — Is Mubarak still president? — as succinctly as possible.
He registered a domain name, IsMubarakStillPresident.com, and wrote on the home page just one word: “No.”
Then, things got crazy.
The site was featured on the websites of The Atlantic, London’s The Telegraph and The Huffington Post. Al Jazeera “loved” the site and showcased it on its broadcast. The traffic nearly crashed Mansfield’s server.
One tweeter from San Fransisco — where it was 8 a.m. when Mubarak stepped down — even wrote that, “the Internet being what it is, I actually first learned that Mubarak had finally resigned by clicking on http://ismubarakstillpresident.com.”
Mansfield told the story of the site’s founding on his blog Sunday, writing that he had nearly missed the moment Thursday evening when it seemed as though Mubarak would resign in a nationally televised address. He failed to register the domain in time, and wrote a tweet “slapping” himself for the mistake.
When he awoke Friday morning and Mubarak had still not heeded protesters’ demands, Mansfield decided to register the domain anyway, and initially answered the question with a “Yes” in big, bold letters on the site’s homepage.
Then Mubarak resigned.
Mansfield saw the announcement live on television, and watched as “the quiet crowd in Tahir [sic] Square just erupted in a huge roar.”
“I quickly logged into the website and made a slight change to the wording, and although I am usually quite irritated by what seems to me to be an excessive use of exclamation marks in writing today, I decided to add a solitary exclamation mark as well — as it just seemed right to be surprised and delighted by the news,” Mansfield wrote.
As is now de rigueur for any blogger, he posted the site’s address on Twitter, hoping perhaps for at least a handful of links and “retweets.”
Instead, Mansfield wrote, “my webserver nearly crashed.”
“It went manic, not just my tweet, but vast numbers of people seemed to love the simplicity of it,” Mansfield explained. “And indeed, some people said they had first found out that [Mubarak] had resigned because of the website being retweeted by thousands of people.”
The simplicity, though, belies the elegance.
As any number of news outlets and bloggers — including this one — can testify, the story of Egypt’s revolution is a complicated one. There are myriad players and factors. And as news consumers, we are encountering an ever more fractious media landscape, where relatively few tried-and-true brands wield genuine authority. So it can be hard to find a single, coherent account of the facts.
Which may be why so-called “single serving sites” like IsMubarakStillPresident.com resonate so deeply. Last year, for example, The Daily Need brought you the story of WhatTheF___HasObamaDoneSoFar.com (a sanitized version of the actual domain name). That site, like IsMubarakStillPresident.com, is part of a meme of sites created to answer one simple question with a straightforward answer (or a series of answers, in the case of the Obama site).
In both instances, the founders created a space free of the noise and clutter that characterize our current news environment. They also point up the tired journalistic convention of headlining an article with a question to entice readers, only to offer a muddled answer (or, perhaps worse, a “no“).
True, they also require you to shear away the nuance of a complex story. But there are plenty of other places to go for that.
When Egyptians wanted to celebrate a simple, historic truth — and when sympathizers across the world wanted to celebrate with them — many clicked on Mansfield’s site. As Mansfield noted on his blog, the fifth-highest source of traffic among countries was Egypt, “which would have been impossible when the old regime was in power and blocking the internet.”
He added, simply: “So that was nice.”