Can Blogging Be Revived (or Resuscitated) in Myanmar?
“Bloggers can be a very influential force, and something that this country needs,” said a colleague at the launch of the Advertising Agency Association of Myanmar. Myanmar’s internet landscape is very unique and almost surreal. Most people think getting ‘online’ is when you’re using Facebook or Viber. It’s not that there were no attempts at forums, and blogging, it’s just the way many users have evolved over the years. Especially the way the newer internet users are coming online.
We do have presence across other ‘regular’ internet platforms. There’s a small but vibrant Wikipedia community. Google works in Burmese. And there were bloggers who wrote and transmitted their thoughts for all to see. There are also those who have been active on YouTube, broadcasting ‘how to’ videos, product reviews, and demos. There are numerous content uploaders, especially music producers who get their music videos up on YouTube. The opening up of the digital ecosystem in Myanmar should’ve brought in more diversity. There was just one thing people did not count on: Facebook.
Facebook killed the blogger star in Myanmar. When the internet started opening up for Myanmar back in 2006, there were a small number of bloggers. They composed poems, searched for the meaning of life, and shared news. One of the more successful ones, Thit Htoo Lwin became one of the top websites to this day. But Facebook hit like a proverbial tsunami in 2008 and everyone migrated. Why blog when you can just update status? Why write on your own platform where you need to spend more time and energy getting to the audience? Facebook offered not just a stage for short form content, but also the privacy — the walled garden that anyone talking or sharing ‘controversial thoughts’ would be attracted to.
Facebook was also one of the few platforms that was not shut down on and off in Myanmar. Back in the day, whenever there were rumors of civil unrest or some political movement, the ‘underground sea cable’ would have an issue. These issues can slow down the internet or come close to shutting it down. With Facebook, it was easy — people still had the platform it just didn’t load fast enough. So as a blogger, or an individual, you can still express your thoughts and feelings without having to tediously login to the platform to do so.
The combination of these wins — ready made audience, easy platform, and control of privacy made bloggers abandon their fledgling blogs and just become influencers on Facebook.
So why blog now? Why should we encourage people to get their own platforms? Because we need more in-depth views, we need more diversity of opinions, and we need to do so outside of the negativity that the Facebook community brings and breeds in Myanmar. We also need to get out of the walled garden. Organic is dead, and we need to stop pleasing just our own circles, our own geographical base. There’s thousands of Myanmar expats and immigrants in so many countries around the world. We need to connect with that diaspora and leverage the collective wisdom. The best way to do this is through blogs.