April 26, 2007 10:00 AM PDT
The free-speech fundamentals of Freewebs
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Li added that Freewebs could see some competition from Ning, a start-up founded by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen that enables users to create their own social-networking sites. She said Freewebs is more widget-friendly than Ning, but "I don't think it would be too hard for Ning to add that."
Competition from a big name like Andreessen probably doesn't faze this bunch. Haroon Mokhtarzada remembers his mother stashing silver in a diaper bag as she prepared to flee Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion. The family's father had been arrested because he was suspected of sympathizing with rebels fighting the communists.
To get permission to leave, their mother told authorities she was visiting her parents in India. To keep up the ruse, she had to leave behind all the family's possessions.
"She basically couldn't touch anything in the house," said Mokhtarzada, 30. "It couldn't look like we were moving at all. We left with nothing and went to India. My dad came a couple of weeks later (after he was freed from prison). The silver in the diaper bag was all we took with us."
Pishevar, for his part, coolly recalls watching tears roll down his brother's face when their father, a director of radio and television in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution, told them that he had been marked for death by revolutionary forces and would have to flee for his life.
After experiences like that, competition with Ning doesn't seem like something to get too upset about. And Freewebs' principals are equally comfortable with confronting other well-known executives.
Shortly after Pishevar spoke to Semel at the D conference, Chinese authorities requested that Freewebs turn over information about some Chinese users. Freewebs refused, and within a few days its users in China began complaining that they could no longer access the site.
"China is a huge market," Pishevar said. "We would love to be in China. We've tried negotiating with them. But we had to make a decision. And we believe that over the long term we're making the right decision in terms of what we stand for."
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