Despite the partial Internet blackout in Iran, there is some evidence that people inside the country are still finding their way online.

Iranian women at an Internet cafe in Tehran. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Internet fans in Iran are not the only ones subverting the system. VPNs were a fixture in many countries during the Arab Spring protests. In Egypt, according to AnchorFree, usage spiked in August, the same month that the nation’s military retook Tahrir Square from protesters. VPNs hit their highest usage in Syria last month, as violence between the government and protesters escalates.

In Iran, the most popular page accessed through VPN in January was, overwhelmingly, Facebook, followed by Google, YouTube and Yahoo.

While YouTube and Facebook have been used by protesters in the Arab Spring to push their messages, other sites accessed on the VPN suggest Iranians want to use the Internet simply to live their normal lives. The fifth most accessed site is a complex online game site called Travian,at which users can build virtual empires.

As of Wednesday, dozens of Web sites remain inaccessible inside Iran, many of them foreign sites. Last week, more than 30 million Internet users in the country were unable to access their own e-mail accounts. Instead, users trying to log on to e-mail called up an error message: “According to computer crime regulations, access to this Web site is denied.”

“Basically they are already shutting off access to all interesting Web sites,” Maysam, an Iranian blogger who did not give his last name for fear of retribution, told The Washington Post. “We will resemble an isolated island in a changing world if this happens.”

The launch of a planned National Internet in Iran, which would block “damaging” Western Web sites,  may be on the horizon.

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