[Read directly at The Jakarta Globe.]
by Tasa Nugraza Barley
“Blogs are naked conversations where you have no editing process. Communication can be very objective or biased,” said Jennie Siat Bevlyadi, 39, who has been blogging since 2004.
Born and raised in Indonesia, but now based in Northern California, Jennie is famous among Indonesian bloggers for her posts on social issues, human rights, minority rights, gender issues, entrepreneurship, writing and online learning.
She has described blogs as a way to exercise free speech that is cheap and easy, but can have a great impact on society.
As such she has tackled important topics, including a recent article on her blog at jenniesbev.typepad.com titled “Peaceful Pluralism and Non-Killing Policy” where she voiced her support for people in Indonesia living in harmony. She wrote: “But we have come to a point where we can no longer tolerate violence and killing. Even in the name of politics.”
Her writing has reached a wide audience and stirred up mixed responses; she has received fan mail — even love letters —from supporters, as well as threats from extremists. She also received an award in 2007 at Pesta Blogger, an annual gathering for bloggers in Indonesia, for best celebrity blogger.
Bloggers with personal rather than political motivations also benefit from the ability to communicate and form connections with people from across the world.
Anita McKay, 30, an Indonesian woman currently living in Perth, Western Australia, began a blog in 2005 to share her own feelings. But as her blogging and writing skills developed, she started to write posts on expatriate and women’s issues as well.
Her blog, www.finally-woken.com, now has posts ranging from discussions of her daily life to her take on political and social issues.
One of her pieces, “What Makes You an Indonesian?” was inspired by a comment she read on Twitter which claimed many Indonesians living abroad pretend to know more about their homeland than they actually do, and that while they like to criticize their country they do nothing to help. Her post challenges her readers to examine what makes them Indonesian.
“Blogs can also be an alternative form of information for people making decisions such as picking a restaurant [to eat at],” Anita added, saying the information that bloggers share is usually detailed and personal which means it can be trusted.
Ian Badawi, 26, is another young Indonesian who has used blogging as a way to stay in touch with his roots. Living in Washington he was frustrated with only ever reading bad news about his home country, so he began blogging with www.goodnewsfromindonesia.com.
“Good News from Indonesia is a blog by a group of young Indonesians who are committed to spreading positive news about Indonesia to the rest of the world,” Ian said.
He said the blog aims to show the strengths of the nation and to help Indonesians, especially young people, to be proud of their country.
Created in 2007, Ian said Good News from Indonesia has followers from places as far away as Norway and Brazil.
Blogging has exploded over the past years as it has become increasingly easy for people to put their thoughts online.
In 2001, local blogger Enda Nasution, 34, wrote an article titled “Apa Itu Blog?” (“What is a Blog?”), explaining the concept and giving people practical advice on how to start their own blogs.
According to his article, the term “weblog” was first introduced by an American blogger, Jorn Barger, in 1997 to refer to commentary Web sites that were updated regularly and contained links to other recommended sites.
His article was one of the first on the topic and since then blogging has become increasingly popular in Indonesia.
“Now there are probably more than one million bloggers in this country,” said Enda, whose efforts to promote blogging in Indonesia include helping initiate Pesta Blogger in 2007.
One of the first companies to give free blog service was Pyra Lab. In 1999 it launched www.blogger.com, which allowed people with little knowledge of Internet coding to start their own blogs.
Enda, a former advertising consultant who now works as a Web consultant, said he has always been a writer at heart and as a teenager he kept a diary of his activities and thoughts.
He said what made blogging remarkable was the way it allowed people to connect with others from across the globe, showing that regardless of religion, nationality or race, people are connected in unimaginable ways.
He once posted a piece about facing a quarter-life crisis. “Now that I’m not experiencing that anymore, I still keep getting comments from people who say things like ‘I have the same feeling’ or ‘Thank you for sharing this,’ ” Enda said.
Of all the many blogs he has created, Enda mostly posts on www.enda.goblogmedia.com, which is made up of his daily observations, mostly on political and cultural issues.
Anita on the other hand, said her blog focuses largely on the “culture shock” experiences that Indonesians, including herself, face living in a foreign country.
“For example there are behaviors that are considered normal in Indonesia but funny to people in other countries, such as dressing up to go to a mall,” Anita said.
Advertising consultant and blogger Ong Hock Chuan, 51, who was involved in organizing Pesta Blogger, said that it was a mistake to say that blogs offer new kinds of information to what can be found in newspapers and magazines.
“What blogs provide is a [different] context to the existing information,” Ong said.
He added that Indonesian bloggers had a uniquely communal nature.
“Bloggers elsewhere do their thing and don’t like to meet up. But in Indonesia bloggers like to meet [face to face] and do things together,” he said.
“Hence you get strong blogger communities.”
Ong said the popularity of blogging in Indonesia is growing. “Last year [Pesta Blogger] attracted 1,500 bloggers from all over Indonesia. We had whole communities of bloggers coming to Jakarta from as far away as Makassar and other parts of Indonesia just to meet with other bloggers,” he said.
This compares with 500 participants in 2007, the inaugural year of the event, and 1,000 in 2008.
Ong said that although there were many ways for people to communicate on the Internet, such as Facebook, Twitter and Kaskus, a local online forum, these tools are not necessarily in competition with each other.
“Each social media platform allows people to do different things, often in a complimentary manner,” he said.
Enda said he would advise new bloggers to use blogging as a tool to find their passion.
“Be original, never give up to keep writing,” Anita said.
“Popular bloggers who have loyal readers are the ones who are passionate about the issues that they bring up, while those who only try to follow the trend will run out of ideas and their blogs will lose their audience.”
The Jakarta Globe, February 8, 2010