Saturday, June 21, 2008

Asia's blog star

Asia's blog star

By Shefali Rekhi
Asia News Network
First Posted 01:54:00 06/22/2008

SINGAPORE--Bloggers no longer just create the buzz about politics, pop culture and other obsessions of the day--they are the buzz.

Indeed, models and movie stars sashayed around during Australian Fashion Week (April 28 to May 2) in Sydney but the real stars of the show turned out to be the fashion bloggers flown in by the organizers to cover the event.

Front row

For instance, in the front row, rubbing shoulders with fashion editors and other famous faces, was none other than Bryanboy, a Manila-based web developer-turned-fashion blogger.

Nearly 180,000 visitors a day--some from as far away as the United States--read his blog. For the average actor, that is a following to die for.

"We've invited some of these guys here because our role is to get people talking about Australian fashion," said Simon Lock, Australian Fashion Week founder.


"And when you've got bloggers who provide immediate commentary within hours, even minutes, of a show finishing, and they are communicating to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the globe, why wouldn't you get them here?" Lock said.

In a growing global trend, some of Asia's celebrity bloggers are attracting international attention with their witty remarks and comments.

Pecking order

Others are upsetting the existing pecking order with their criticism and cynicism.

As their ranks in the region grow by leaps and bounds, today's cyber stars are prompting a rethinking of the notion that Asians are reluctant to express their views or reveal their thoughts.

"It is interesting that many in the region want to express themselves," said Claus Mortensen of market research firm IDC, who monitors blogs as part of his advisory role.

"Nurturing of self-expression is usually not encouraged in Asian societies and this could be an indication of the change taking place in this region," he said.


A survey by Microsoft's MSN and Windows Live Online Services of more than 25,000 MSN portal visitors in seven markets across Asia found that nearly half, or 46 percent, of all those online in the region had a blog. The survey was conducted 19 months ago.

Young people and women dominate, except in India, where the domain is overwhelmingly male, and South Korea, where blogging is a part of everyday life.

For the report, titled "Blogging Asia: A Windows Live Report," residents of Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand were surveyed.

But the trends are similar elsewhere in the region.

Recent research by Technorati, the Internet search firm monitoring blogs, suggests that more than half of the postings on the Internet could originate with Asians.

Japanese ahead

Technorati's research shows that 37 percent of all recorded postings in the fourth quarter of last year were in Japanese and 8 percent in Chinese, compared with 36 percent in English.

Japanese has been ahead of English for three years, said the company, even though the world's English-speaking population outnumbers Japanese speakers by five to one.

Junko Kenetsuna is a typical Japanese blogger. Five times a week for the past three years, she has written about her midday meal. She calls her blog "I had my lunch," and she seldom criticizes the meals.

Mobile devices

Hardly anybody reads her blog, but she posts her reviews nevertheless.

Technorati Japan's Steve Rife has said that such is the urge to stay connected that the trend now is for people to post "mobile blogs or microblogs to update what they are doing or what they ate, etc., from their mobile devices."

Of course, there are dozens of celebrity bloggers across Asia who boast of page views that run into the millions. Some are content just to get noticed; others are obviously out to create controversy.

Stock market

One of China's most popular bloggers is Sha Minnong, deputy editor of Nanjing-based newspaper Modern Express, who writes on the swings in the Chinese stock market.

His popularity? More than 178 million page views since March last year. And the number has been growing, with many seeking his insights into the stock market.

In Singapore, some of the best-read blogs are even archived by the National Library Board.

The list includes the satirical, the "Air-Conditioned Nation" by media academic Cherian George and "Yawning Bread," which comments on social and political issues.

Raising eyebrows

In India, 20-something journalist Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan has been raising eyebrows and some concern with her personal blog titled "The Compulsive Confessor."

In it, she tackles a topic that is still taboo in the country--sex. In fact, she does not want her parents to read her blog.

"Today, we're going to talk about oral sex" is a typical opening to her postings on the hidden lives of young Indian city girls.

Book offer

With her candid and witty style, Madhavan has attracted a readership that is growing so fast that she has received a book offer from Penguin India.

Bloggers in Malaysia, on the other hand, have been accused of causing turbulence in the country with their political debate. It has been widely acknowledged that their postings helped turn voters against the ruling Barisan Nasional, which lost five states in the recent elections.

Now, leaders of the ruling coalition are scrambling to gain a foothold in the blogosphere.

But research shows that politics is not a popular theme with those who read blogs. They prefer topics such as travel, food and entertainment.

Microsoft's survey of Asian bloggers showed that an overwhelming majority--74 percent--were interested in reading blogs about family and friends.

Those who wanted to read the blogs of politicians were only 14 percent and there was even less preference for the blogs of sports personalities.


IDC's Mortensen believes that in the years to come, the trend will continue to grow.

"We are seeing communities of bloggers building up in this region, especially in places like China and India," he said. "Users of the Internet are seeking ways to connect with each other, and you will see more of these communities develop as distances continue to grow between members of Asian families.

"For them, blogging will be the way to stay connected" Mortensen said.


Yet, there are consequences that necessitate a certain degree of monitoring.

Bloggers in China, for instance, played a part in whipping up antiforeign sentiment when China's policies in Tibet ignited protests in many countries that the Olympic torch passed through en route to Beijing, host of this year's Games.

One of their targets was the French supermarket chain Carrefour. That led to some concern among multinationals, which are now being told to look at blogging as part of their online marketing and public relations strategies.

Cyber watchers say bloggers do have a certain amount of credibility: In the Microsoft survey, half of the respondents said they trusted the blogs as much as the traditional media.

But the challenge that this could pose for the mainstream media remains to be seen, given issues over quality and the fact that bloggers prefer to give a verdict or opinion without really reporting on the views of the people.

Besides, in the spirit of competition that exists out there, bloggers will battle it out as they express themselves.

Bryan Boy
Web developer-turned-fashion writer

Blog address:
Blogs about: Fashion, accessories, pop culture
Popularity indicator: His blog reportedly attracts 180,000 visitors a day
The flamboyant fashion blogger started blogging when he was 17, from his parents' home in Manila. He is known for his witty and bitchy commentary, and his blog attracts overseas readers as well as those within his country.

Xu Jinglei, 34

Blog address:
Blogs about: Her work and daily life
Popularity indicator: Page views of more than 149 million since October 2005
Xu apparently did not start the blog herself. In October 2005, she was told by one of her colleagues that, one of China's largest Internet companies, had set up a blog under her name and that she could opt to write or post photographs. And so she did, to the delight of millions of Chinese Internet users.

Hu Jia-wei (Wanwan), 27
Comic artist

Blog address:
Blogs about: Everyday life
Popularity indicator: Has drawn more than 120 million visitors since October 2004
Hu used to work with a computer game design company before becoming an independent online author. She started blogging to share her everyday life and reflections with friends and family.
But her diary entries on grouses about working life have become a major hit among online users.

Lee Kin Mun, 38
Full-time writer/Podcaster/TV host

Blog address:
Blogs about: Current events, music, gadgets, family
Popularity indicator: About 10,000 people read his blog daily
Lee took to blogging quite by accident in 1997. Under the popular Singapore National Education series, he wrote about life in the Lion City--on issues such as why it was OK for a sandwich to cost S$8 (US$6) as long as it had a French name. Now he writes on a range of topics.

Naoto Amaki, 60
Former ambassador to Lebanon

Blog address:
Blogs about: Diplomatic and political affairs
Popularity indicator: Figures among the top 10 political bloggers in the country
Amaki, who is now a nonfiction writer, joined the foreign ministry in 1969 and has served in Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Canada, among other countries. It is said that he was obliged to resign from the ministry because of his opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, which Japan supported.

Amit Agarwal, 31
Personal technology columnist

Blog address:
Blogs about: Technology
A computer science graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Agarwal quit his full-time job in 2004 to become a full-time blogger. Most of his income is generated from advertisements on his blog.

Ahiruddin Attan, 47
Former editor of Business Times and Malay Mail

Blog address:
Blogs about: Political affairs
Popularity indicator: Has attracted more than 4.3 million visitors since May 2006
Better known as Rockybru, Ahiruddin said he took to blogging after he was stopped from publishing some articles when Abdullah Badawi took over as prime minister in 2004. He once wrote that Abdullah had bought a yacht, forcing the Prime Minister to publicly deny the purchase.

The Straits Times/ANN

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