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Blogging and Democratization in Malaysia – Forum and book launch

Last Friday there was the launch of the first properly researched book on blogging in Malaysia – the first from a social science point of view, and – as far as I know – the first dealing properly with blogging per se in Malaysia. “Blogging and Democratization in Malaysia: A New Civil Society in the Making” is written by Jun-E Tan and Prof. Zawawi Ibrahim of University Malaya; those of you who have been around the blogosphere long enough will probably remember Jun-E’s blog and research survey in 2006 – in a way I’m following in her footsteps, although my focus is different and I’m spending more time on it. I’m going to try to do a proper review of it at another time, but suffice to say that if you want to know more about blogging in Malaysia, and also about blogging and political activity in general, you cannot miss this book [Update 28/06/09: M/C Reviews have published my review of this book]. It also has a postscript written mostly by Zawawi (I think, based on what he said in the forum) about the 12th General Election and what role blogs played in those momentous events.

The forum last week was held in the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall


I got there a bit late, and it had already started. There were about thirty people there, and the organisers seemed a bit disappointed that more had not turned up; myself, I was a bit surprised that there were not more of the usual suspects at SoPo blogging events.

I missed the first couple of talks. Jun-E talked about the book, summarising it well and underlining the basic points of the book: most bloggers are not SoPo, but they capture a disproportionate amount of the readership and attention, and their key role in democratisation and civil society is in providing a channel to raise issues that would otherwise probably be ignored by the MSM. There’s more than that in the book of course, which includes a wealth of statistical data on bloggers and readers and detailed information on the formation of All-Blogs and other events surrounding that key episode of the Malaysian blogosphere. One thing that it made me realise is that I have to include readers of blogs in my survey too (i.e. those who do not have a blog, but read them regularly). Prof. Zawawi made some similar points, and also pointed out how he had asked Jun-E (he was her supervisor for the MA thesis) to gather information on the ‘narrative’ of the bloggers and the blogosphere, something which has been attended to in the body of the book, as well as in the interviews with key bloggers reproduced at the end of it.


Rocky then gave his talk, covering a few issues such as the relationship between the media and the blogs, and the interesting reaction of the Singapore government to the elections (he was invited with other blogs to speak to the Singaporean government about blogs and the elections). What interested me most, however, was how he said that there were “cracks appearing in the blogosphere”; ever since the elections there have been more blogs but some are “biased… blindly working for political masters” – i.e. like the MSM. Some “bloggers are openly promoting individuals… which is perfectly OK … [they are] allowed to be partisan”; but when do not want to listen to others, don’t agree to disagree, then blogs may lose credibility.

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Life without comments

I had shut down the comments about ten days ago when I was moving server (a big thanks to my brother for making it painless and possible!) - I didn't want people to leave comments and then they would get lost because the database was already elsewhere.

Anyway, I forgot to turn the comments back on! So, for the last three posts, I've been wondering why there are no comments at all - I realised why today, and so if you want to leave a comment to this post you may :-)

The thing is, it was bothering me... I'm used to normally getting one or two comments, and when they were not appearing, I started to worry a bit - were my posts completely uninteresting? Were the advertisements (especially the one in the centre of the screen - removed now) putting people off? An indication of how it was troubling me was that this morning, while peeling and slicing fruit for breakfast and to store in the fridge, it was trickling through my mind again and finally it clicked that I had turned the comments off.

It reminded me of one of the central arguments I have in relation to the blog as medium - that perhaps the most important difference that it has in relation to other media is the comments feature, and I would go so far to say that a blog without comments enabled is 'not really' a blog.

For my research, I need to identify the key blogging practices, and see how they come together to form the blog-as-phenomenon. So, taking comments as an example, what other practices derive from or cluster with them?

• Authorship: with comments, the author-blogger is not the sole voice in the blog; this means that s/he has to negotiate with the commenters regarding the meaning and import of the content. This 'negotiation' can be one-sided - as the blogger can just delete comments, but this can reduce the interest of the blog to readers.
• Dialogics: a newspaper may benefit from Letters to the Editor, but they are not published alongside and at the same time as the post. The post and the comments make up the blog post - this is the dialogical aspect of blogging - i.e. it is the result of a 'conversation' (as Jeff Ooi often says). One result of this can be that the blogger seeks to draw in comments by - for example - asking questions to the reader (as this post will end :-))
• Time sensitivity: there are only so many comments a person can make, for regular readers who like to make comments the blogger needs to provide regular fodder. This is not to say that the importance of regular posting only relates to giving opportunities for comments, but it is one factor that feeds into it.
• Personalising the audience: the blogger gets to know some or most of the regular commenters, who frequently have their own blogs - this is the genesis of a 'community of interest' or perhaps a 'community of practice'.
• Meeting space: in some blogs (such as Kenny Sia's), where there are a large number of comments, there seems to be people who regularly comment there and get to know each other. So, in effect, they use the space as their own meeting space online; the actual content of the blog may become less relevant to them as opposed to the opportunity to socialise with the other 'regulars'.
• Motivation: the blogger - many of whom have a creative or socially-concerned impulse - is not talking into a void. Comments mean that someone has been moved in some way or other to respond, meaning the work has not been in vain.

OK. That's all I can think of now. What do you think? How important are comments for a blog? How do they affect the way a person blogs?