Syrian government blocks Bambuser’s live video of crisis

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Bambuser, a live mobile video streaming startup along the lines of Qik, has become something of an underground hit in the last couple of years because of its ability to stream video over poor mobile connections. That’s made it a favourite of emerging markets, in part because it supports over 200 different mobile devices, from cheap Nokias to the latest iPhone. During the Arab Spring last year it was used by protesters to document various uprisings across the region. The platform has lately been used to great effect by anti-government protesters in strife-torn Syria. But this morning the government blocked 3G and desktop Web access to the service.

Yesterday BBC News was carrying Bambuser’s live stream of black smoke billowing from a site in Homs, the scene of much of the uprising against the Syrian regime.

This is the third time Bambuser has been blocked by a government. It was blocked in Egypt at the end of January 2011 for a week during the protests there, and it has also been blocked by Bahrain’s government for the last 6 months.

“We believe it really shows the true power of live video streaming and the confidence many activists have in our service,” Eriksson told me. “Activists are using web cams and mobile phones, everything from Nokia to iPhones. We don’t know in detail how the Syrian government is blocking it,” Executive Chairman Hans Eriksson told me.

He says that over the past 3-4 weeks the number of Bambuser-made videos from Syria has increased substantially, with many contain terrifying footage showing bombings, victims of government violence, destruction and the terrible conditions at local field hospitals in Syria.

Yesterday an oil pipeline in Homs was bombed by the Syrian military. A local citizen in Homs, who’s been filming the fighting over several days, used Bambuser to live-stream an entire day of footage showing the black smoke rising from the explosion, with gunfire and shelling heard in the background.

The archived footage can be watched here.

That footage was also broadcast live by many major TV news outlets including CNN, BBC, AlJazeera, SkyNews and others with credentials to access live feeds from Bambuser. The video was also very likely watched by the Syrian government itself.

But Bambuser is not charging for these live feeds.

“We haven’t gotten a single penny from anyone, however it has opened up opportunities to discuss how news channels can utilize Bambuser in their daily operations,” Eriksson said.

It seems likely that it’s this footage that led the Syrian government to shut down access to Bambuser on mobile and via ISPs.

Despite this, live footage is continuing to appear on Bambuser, although Eriksson told me that they are not able to discuss publicly how this is happening “as the security and safety of protesters is the number one priority.”

You can access Bambuser’s Middle East channel here.

Bambuser’s technology was, in my opinion always superior to Qik. Founded in Sweden in 2007, the major difference with Qik is a lower latency because it queues packets of data to preserve video quality. That means you can start shooting from a bad connection, but still capture all the video. When your connection improves – perhaps by coming into contact with Wifi – the application starts to upload the rest of the data, meaning the entire video improves, even as you live stream.

If you shoot video and for some reason go offline, the next time you go online – e.g. hit wifi after streaming from a 3G connection – the rest of the video is uploaded automatically. Qik only ever gave you the video you shot at the time with the connection you had at the time, however bad.

You can share live mobile video with Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, WordPress, RSS and Blogspot. It features geo-location tagging, web storage, and one click social sharing. It works on iPhoneOS, Symbian, Android, Nokia Maemo, Symbian, and Windows Mobile platforms.

Bambuser also offers streaming both from your computer and mobile. In October 2009 Bambuser was the first of the live streaming start-ups to allow users to stream video directly from their mobiles to their Facebook Wall.

While Qik was acquired by Skype for $150m last year, Bambuser has only ever received Seed funding in 2008 from the Kistefos VC and only recently secured a small round of financing from existing investors. It is now working with investment-readiness company GP Bullhound.

Eriksson said: “The feedback we get from our friends in Syria and all over the world is fantastic. Not only have we helped them get their message out, but they also say it means much in terms of morale for everyone in this situation. They know the world is watching, sharing and it gives them hope.”