This article was published on March 29, 2012

Tel Aviv startup Rounds launches a platform for Israelis and Iranians to connect on Facebook

Tel Aviv startup Rounds launches a platform for Israelis and Iranians to connect on Facebook
Nancy Messieh
Story by

Nancy Messieh

Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Fol Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Follow her on Twitter, her site or Google+ or get in touch at [email protected]

As mainstream media runs headlines about escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, a very different Israeli-Iranian story has been making the headlines, thanks to the Facebook campaign, Israel Loves Iran.

The page already has over 50,000 fans, and has been seen by hundreds of thousands Facebook users from all over the world. It started out as one image shared by an Israeli graphic designer, Ronny Edry.

24 hours passed, and a trend had begun among some Israeli Internet users, sharing similar photos.

Another 24 hours passed, and the trend had extended to their Iranian counterparts, sharing images with words of love, support and friendship.

To find out more about the campaign, and why it was launched, check out the video below:

The team behind Rounds, a Tel Aviv-based startup which provides a video platform for Facebook users was so inspired by the campaign that they decided to contribute to it the best way they knew how – using their service as a tool to connect Iranian and Israeli Facebook users.

Rounds is all about connecting Facebook users, whether friends, family or even complete strangers.

An interview with the executive vice president of Rounds

We spoke to Rounds executive vice president, Oren Levy, who explained what the service is about, and why they decided to get involved in the campaign.

Oren told us, “Rounds is a hangout platform, and our mission is to take the experience of hanging out in the real world and bring it to the online world.”

Rounds does this by combining the video chat experience with other activities – mainly playing games or watching videos together, with more features coming soon, such as collaborating on art. You’re probably thinking that sounds an awful lot like Google+’s Hangout feature, but Rounds has actually been around a little longer, having launched about a year and a half ago.

Oren emphasizes that Rounds, while in a similar space to Google+, certainly has its distinctions, “Google has done an amazing job in terms of functionality, but we’re more of an emotional and fun platform. For example, they recently integrated Google Docs into Google Hangouts which is a very productive function. We don’t aim to be a business or productive tool. We aim to be a fun environment.”

With Rounds, users can hang out with their friends and family on Facebook, or can also be matched with strangers, with the platform giving users the chance to make new friends.

Rounds’ contribution to the We Love You campaign

In order to contribute to the campaign, Rounds created a space specifically for Iranian and Israeli Facebook users. Anyone can access the designated area, but the system will specifically match users from Iran and Israel together. Anyone else from around the world will be matched with other ‘supporters’ of the cause.

The app has hundreds of thousands of Israeli users, and tens of thousands in Iran. The exact figure of Iranian users, of course, cannot be determined since many Iranian Internet users have to resort to proxies and other work-arounds to bypass governmental restrictions on Internet use.

So why get involved in the campaign in the first place? Oren explains, “Our platform isn’t just for hanging out with friends and family – we allow you to meet new people. We’re based in Tel Aviv, and we’re part of the environment we live in, and we were moved by the campaign, and said, why don’t we help. We have a platform that brings people together. Let’s create a pool of Israeli users and a pool of Iranian users and bring them together on Rounds.”

Having launched just 2 days ago, we have yet to see the results of the Rounds campaign, but Oren is optimistic about its effect, “It might take away some of the prejudice that some governments try to portray. The Internet took away a lot of the intermediaries and can bring people together. You can see the other person, see their reactions, and see that its just another human being. We hope that people will see, we’re just like each other.”

He goes on, “It’s a fun, emotional and safe place – without any politics. We don’t want to get involved in politics in any way. We don’t care about governments, we care about people. We thought it was a perfect match.”

If the campaign proves to be a success, Rounds may replicate it for other nations in conflict around the world.

Can it succeed?

Since its launch, not only has the We Love You campaign caught the attention of Facebook users and world media, it has also managed to raise over $25,000 to keep the movement going.

The campaign has not been without its critics. User contributed images on Facebook are a combination of messages of encouragement, mixed in with photographs highlighting the brutality that the region continues to witness.

At the same time, the movement has translated into an offline presence, with rallies taking place in Tel Aviv, has translated into art courtesy of Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, and into more Israelis speaking out on YouTube, and Iranians responding.

The question remains, can one photo, a Facebook campaign and video hangouts actually make a difference? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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