I was reminded that Iran has had a substantial and active blogosphere for years by a 2005 article Bente Kalsnes posted the other day. It's in Norwegian, but she also linked up this video which neatly visualizes part of what it highlighting.
The video also reminded me of a seminar I attended on how free the internet really is last year, featuring, to name a few, Jimmy Wales, Jonathan Zittrain and a speech from Parvin Ardalan, who unfortunately couldn't attend in person as her passport had been confiscated by the Iranian government. Luckily, Espen Andersen liveblogged the event, and his thorough notes in English can be found here.
Among other things, Zittrain was asked: "Why do they have Internet in Iran at all?"
"Very few states explicitly rejects modernity - Cuba and North Korea are some of the very few. Most states want the economic effects of the Internet. It is rather haphazardly enforced, though. Iran filters more stuff than China, but China tries harder to filter the relatively few things they filter. The US government has actually contracted with Anonymizer, to provide circumvention software for Iranians, and for Iranians only," he answered.
The highlights from Ardalan's speech also make for interesting reading in view of what's happening in Iran now. For a contrarian view, some would say a healthy dose of realisme, on the role social media is playing in the Iran uprising see this Business Week-article.
Update 19.06.2009, 10:47 CET: also check out this blog post by Rory Cellan-Jones on the what seems to have been the Iranian regime's internet strategy since last week's presidential election