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May 25, 2008

Asia's Blog Stars

May 25, 2008

With their frank take on anything from sex to politics, they are a force to reckon with

By Shefali Rekhi

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 in Sydney as expected earlier this month, but the real stars of the show turned out to be the fashion bloggers flown in by the organisers to cover the event.

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

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 Australian Fashion Week founder Simon Lock.

'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?'

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

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 rethink 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 Mr 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.'

A survey by Microsoft's MSN and Windows Live Online Services of more than 25,000 MSN portal visitors in seven markets across Asia was conducted 18 months ago. It found that nearly half, or 46per cent, of all those online in this region have a blog.

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, entitled 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.

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

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

Ms 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 criticises the meals.

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

Technorati Japan's Mr Steve Rife told The Sunday Times that such is the urge to stay connected that the trend now is for people to post 'mobile blogs or micro-blogs to update what they are doing or what they ate, et cetera, 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.

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

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

Here 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.

In India, 20-something journalist Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan has been raising eyebrows and some concern with her personal blog entitled 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.

With her candid and witty style, Ms 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 - 74per cent - were interested in reading blogs about family and friends.

Those who wanted to read the blogs of politicians numbered only 14per cent, and there was even less preference for the blogs of sports personalities.

IDC's Mr 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.'

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

Bloggers in China, for instance, played a part in whipping up anti-foreign 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.

Source: The Straits Times



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