[12 minute read]
“The objective of the blog is to highlight entertainment news be it in local television or music and performing arts happening in and around the country of Brunei Darussalam, and occasionally posting music news from around the globe.” – BruneiBuzz
“It is a portal which will provide free in-depth information and entertainment to the wired Bruneian and the general public. There will be varying of essential and useful content ranging from Islam to Tourism to Health and Sports and many more. The website’s main function is to be the creative platform for Brunei” – 1stopbrunei
“Join me on this projek, a projek to discover and rediscover this country they call the Abode of Peace, the Heart of Borneo, this place they call the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures…through the stories of the People.” – ProjekBrunei
“The main aim of that website is to create entertainment, but now that there’s entertainment, people still don’t know about it and so then I created this website to increase awareness on all food and entertainment in Brunei.” – Brunei Entertainment
What follows is an analysis of online culture in Brunei. It is written with the intent of reflecting on our current online practices and opening up a discussion about its direction.
What I have written also serves as an incomplete history of online culture in Brunei. It focuses on written blogs, leaving out many aspects such as web rings, mIRC and forums in order to understand platform websites. As I researched this essay I left out many things I wished to have kept in, there is plenty more that can be written about this subject.
These thoughts on online culture in Brunei emerged after the trip to Seattle on the invitation of Royal Brunei. It made me question the relation Open Brunei has with blogging and the role it could play within this space.
Introduction (back to Top)
1stopbrunei, The Amo Times, ASZBrunei, Brunei Buzz, Brunei fm, Brunei Foodies, BruneiShines, LoveFoodHateWaste (Brunei), Muzikaliti, Songket Alliance, Support Bruneian Artists, Open Brunei, ProjekBrunei, Ranoadidas, are described as: a place to highlight, a way to discover, a place to share, to raise awareness, a social blog, a portal, a platform.
These websites curate content. Online content may include poetry, drawings, comics, images, sounds, videos and so on. While some have write-ups with contextualizing information, others share content as it is. Websites such as LoveFoodHateWaste (Brunei) and Songket Alliance, also have original content for their website. But most of these websites fall to the latter, sharing content as it is, adding no more than three sentences or less of relevant information.
Platform websites have huge followings across social media. At the moment 1stopbrunei on Facebook has over 1,000 likes, BruneiTweet has close to 18,000 followers on Twitter and Brunei Foodies nearing 4,200 followers on Instagram. With 42,070 in total, Ranoadidas has around the same social media reach across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as The Brunei Times with 37,350. However, Brunei fm on Facebook eclipses them all with them with 140,000 likes. As large as their social media reach, all have websites.
Local content, can be found on deviantART, Facebook, Pinterest, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress and Blogger and to name a few. Blogging on platforms such as WordPress and Blogger are still seen as an established online presence, regardless of the length of time the website has been running. Websites are understood as official and legitimate. This sense of authority is based on having a logo and an explanation about what they are about, along with a unified look: altogether these elements serve to legitimize content.
While websites are perceived to be credible and on the pulse, by the time content reaches these websites, it has already been shared on Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram commented on and analysed. Those who are interested in food, would have already found out about a promotion going on in their favourite restaurant through their Facebook page or on an advertisement and made plans with friends within a couple of minutes of viewing it.
With a population of less than half a million, content can spread quickly not just online but through word of mouth. Whatsapp, a messaging service, has accelerated this spread of content through group chat which makes the sharing “frictionless“. Multiple recipients receive text, images, sounds, video or links within seconds. Coupled with the rise of smartphone users and sharing capabilities on phone operating systems, sharing is effortless. The country is small and highly connected. Why would there be a need for platform websites? What relationship do platform websites have with their audience, do they satisfy a need for content? Are platform websites an alternative?
Emergence of bloggers 2000s (back to Top)
Looking back at the rise of blogging in Brunei is helpful in framing the current emergence of platform websites. The mid-2000s saw the rise of blogging in the country which followed global trends.
In 2009, Lim Sheng Ming (LSM) wrote a four part piece on bloggers in Brunei for CNET Asia. He explained from his own perspective the rise of blogging in the country and refers to it as “The Bang of 2006″. He wrote: “I’m at a loss to explain exactly what changed in the years since 2001 but somehow Brunei Blogs came of age.”
The largest compilation of Brunei websites that is still accessible, Simpur Blogging Nation, is one of the most ambitious in terms of collating Bruneian content. The scale and exhaustiveness could never continue at the rate it did when it launched early 2007, the last blog to be added was in 2011. The blogs collated reflect prevalent trends during the period, moreover a need for content to be discovered and shared.
Presently many of the websites on Simpur Blogging Nation (left pic) have been deleted, moved or marked as private. Blogs during this early period of blogging were in the moment, writing about issues pertinent to the time. A notable exception is The Daily Brunei Resources which published articles relating to Brunei history. However, what I will focus on are the vast majority of blogs which were reactive, immediate and personal.
Blogs didn’t need to be searchable on search engines, such as Google or Yahoo due to features such as “pingback” or “trackback”. While blogrolls (below) helped in terms of showing a particular network of blogs, links were hardly easy to browse. Blogs listed in a blogroll aren’t distinguishable by name alone and most aren’t categorized by topic or theme. Simpur Blogging Nation helped to make sense of the sudden burst of blogs with content related to Brunei through categorization.
Reflecting a population ever more confident sharing their interests and a greater ability of building communities around them online, blogs covering specific topics emerged during this period: make-up, yoga, technology, Japanese culture, painting, fishing, photography and many more.
There was also a sense of personal expression, a willingness to open up. Zul-Fadly wrote on Soul Connection – Alter Ego in 2006, “[…] when I started this blog it was a place for me to put down my thoughts and perhaps elaborate on issues and matters from my perspective, but mostly it will be topics which I am familiar with.”
Gaining a readership during this period by sharing her personal thoughts was Maurina, with her blog Turquoise and Roses. It addressed key events in blogging: the transition of bloggers into print media, the use of blogging to highlight pressing issues and blogging to promote companies. These events continue to affect the relationship between blogging and the media, as well as, expectations of online content.
What drew readers was her honesty, humour and head-on stance addressing issues. Posts were written in a frenetic pace, not only were topics engaging with current issues but also rapidly engaged by readers. Topics included sex education, cleanliness in the capital, the Tutong community and call for the introduction of a Brunei Wiki.
The rapidity of engagement was partly down to access to the Internet becoming less limited by hardware and software. Easy to pick up tools on Blogger made posting simple and straightforward, even for a computer novice. Access to computers were becoming less of an issue and started to be within financial reach for most households. Even though Internet speeds in the country were crawling at 56kb/s or 128kb/s speeds, this did not stop people from posting content online.
Another indication of the rude health of blogging during this early period and the numerous styles and niche interest it sparked was Emmagoodegg’s list of bloggers written in 2006 on her blog (above). It highlighted bloggers who wrote about parenting, parking, photography, studying abroad, yoga to name a few subjects. In relation to print media available during the time, these topics and interests were far more relevant. English print media was limited in content; blogging provided an alternative.
It wasn’t until 2006 when The Brunei Times emerged as a broadsheet with the motto, “Fresh Ideas, New Option, Global Vision” that another English news outlet emerged. Their relationship with bloggers was strengthened through the short-lived Blog Speak column and their willingness to address blogging seriously. This relationship not only with bloggers but with the online community continues with their sharing of articles on social media and the ability to comment on website articles.
As much as it was another option, it still had a lot of prove in terms of content. Nonnie King on Spiritual Garden, compared the content between print media (left pic) a few months after The Brunei Times launched, she wrote, “Ok lah… I understand that Brunei Times is still new .. But… having 12 pages of papers selling for B$1.00…. I can’t help but felt it’s so NOT worth it.”
Emmagoodegg was also part of a group of bloggers in The Brunei Times column Blog Speak. LSM, wrote in part three of ‘Brunei Bloggers, a retrospective look’, “The Brunei Blogosphere was ecstatic: having been struck down by the hand of one newspaper they were now being lifted, venerated and even exonerated by the hand of another.” The other newspaper was the Borneo Bulletin, bloggers perceived the English daily to be less enthusiastic about blogging. In 2006 Borneo Bulletin carried the headline, “Bloggers beware libel lawsuits” (below) Katie-Ella noted on her blog that the article had lead to heated discussion among the blogging community.
Ranoadidas, Maurina, LSM and Emmagoodegg took turns to contribute a weekly column on a range of topics for Blog Speak. Presently only Emmagoodegg continues to contribute her writing to The Brunei Times, simultaneously posting them on her blog.
Only a few months into their inception The Brunei Times compiled a list of notable bloggers (above) which reflected the relationship it had with online culture and later that year profiled the writers of Blog Speak (below).
By the end of 2007, this period of almost boundless activity by bloggers and the seemingly endless array of blogs was waning. Post frequency per month for the blog by Jewelle Tan, Life in Lumut, Brunei (below) shows a gradual drop into 2008, as posts became less frequent. The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2011 attributed the decline to the failure to monetize. The report said, “[…] in more recent times, a number of these [blogs] have been abandoned or downgraded, which may indicate a realisation by many amateur bloggers that monetising output is no easy task.” Meanwhile, Maurina wrote, “I’m just wondering why everything is so quiet in the Brublogosphere lately? Even my blog stats have gone down. I hope none of us are losing our “zing”, if we actually had any in the first place.”
The Simpur Bloggies (right) masked this loss of momentum. The awards included five categories: ‘Personal’, ‘Local Scene’, ‘Speciality’, ‘Photo Blogs’ and ‘Lifestyle’. As of September 2007 there were 331 blogs on Simpur Blogging Nation, the ‘Personal’ category was the largest and had far more than other categories such as ‘Shopping & Services’, ‘Tech’ and ‘Food’.
In a 2011 interview Kamarul Dzaman Ajmain, who is also known as the Geek in White said about Simpur Blogging Nation, “It was during that time that I was working with Simpur (of DST Sdn Bhd), and I compiled as much as I could about the known blogs, and made a directory and invited people to send in their links.”
This shift that had happened in subsequent years, was already sensed by Geek in White. Reflecting on the article quoted above he wrote, “Personally, I don’t think I’m much of a blogger any more. It’s microblogging for me now and heavily into social networking. Together with my SocMed [social media] gang – @ranoadidas, @anakbrunei, @emmagoodegg @pablo_bakes & @maurina – we try to promote positive ways in using the social network platforms for awareness on current social issues locally or internationally.”
Thanis Lim, who describes himself as a food journalist and blogger on Thanis Lim, wrote about his involvement with the Brunei blogging scene noting the importance of Geek in White and Senor Pablo. Both figures acknowledging the transition of blogging for social causes and the need for creating a sense of community online. Thanis wrote, “They are my mentors, introducing me to the Brunei blogosphere, and helping me to raise my profile. They’re really inspiring people, who organise wonderful events to help others.”
Senor Pablo in this regard was a staunch supporter of using blogging for the social causes. Arab Families quoted his speech during the first Kuala Belait Bloggers night in 2008, “As time evolves, let’s just hope blogging will not turn to be another fad or just a medium for individuals to be on the spotlight. It is imperative that we blog for genuine reasons and most importantly to inspire the younger generations. So let’s remind ourselves to blog in good faith.”
Another indication of the shifting interests in blogging was the Visit Brunei blog created in the lead up to Visit Brunei 2008. Bloggers came together to highlight Brunei as a tourist destination, Anak Brunei wrote “We will endeavour to provide as much “informal” information to those who will be interested to visit Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures.” Bloggers would post their own take on where to go around the country through photographs, creative writing and tips. Content created from a variety of sources from multiple authors.
Projek Brunei launched in 2010 by Delwin Keasberry an extension of his Twitter account (above) BruneiTweet. He explained on Projek Brunei’s about page, “Everyone has a Story, and this blog – ‘Projek Brunei’, features the stories, music, photography and art of locals and of people who have lived or worked in Brunei Darussalam before.”
During this period as well, Brunei fm (left pic) also saw a rise in readership, at the moment overwhelmingly wider in terms of social media reach than The Brunei Times, Ranoadidas and Projek Brunei combined. In December 22, 2010 they asked in an update, “Do you agree if the brunei police share their public info with us here at bfm? Why? State your reasons” which received 101 likes and 172 comments. This method of audience engagement follows posts on the Projek Brunei website and the BruneiTweet Twitter account asking less thorny subjects following a multiple choice format.
The emphasis was on individual stories on Projek Brunei, which are featured on the website. The format following a question and answer style with pictures and a contextualising comment from Delwin. Simpur Blogging Nation on the other hand, only added a link to their directory placed in a category, with occasional featured websites. Through the network Delwin fostered with BruneiTweet by “following back” and engagement, articles are directly accessed on Projek Brunei. He has described the site as an extension of his Twitter account, BruneiTweet.
Projek Brunei is a bridge between micro-blogging and blogging. Marul, who now describes himself part of a SocMed group, identifies himself more as a micro-blogger. In this regard, Delwin straddles micro-blogging and blogging utilising both Projek Brunei and BruneiTweet to generate content. Brunei fm on the other hand primarily uses Facebook to engage with their audience with their website taking a back seat. Each distinct in how they create content but all focusing on engagement and participation.
No longer looking inwards, online culture shifted to encourage the audience to look outwards to see what others in the country were doing. The scope of Projek Brunei’s website, not only encompasses Brunei’s borders but also the world. He writes, “…readers (top 10, in order of highest percentage) have come from Brunei Darussalam, the United States of America, Australia, England, Malaysia, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Germany and Japan.” Projek Brunei, as much it is a shift in blogging is also an extension of the role Simpur Bloggies Awards played in highlighting content in Brunei beyond its borders. It should also be noted that issues such as tourism, government directives, the role of education, have previously been raised on Global Voices Online (right pic) to bring them to a potential global audience.
Launched this year, Songket Alliance (left pic) an online zine for writers who identify themselves with Brunei, has the same aim as Projek Brunei of sharing stories, “We believe that everyone has a story and points of views to share.” Elsewhere Teah, Editor-in-Chief writes in a welcome post about the contributors for the zine, “They will talk about feminism or personal rebellion, religion or parking problems, shopping lists or social issues. They want you to read their thoughts and identify with them. They will show you a part of Brunei that has long been ignored.” It should be noted that blogs touching on these subjects have already been compiled in the Simpur Blogging Nation. Unfortunately, many blogs covering these very issues have been deleted, moved or marked as private, as mentioned earlier.
The reasons for blogging have shifted, awareness of the audience and the social role blogging should play are emphasised. Zul-Fadly noted its immense personal quality in 2006, Delwin in 2010 understood there is the potential for not just Bruneians but the world to read, and we find ourselves again with an emphasis on personal narrative with Songket Alliance in 2013. Individual voices which showed the reader how the author viewed the world, shifted to a broader approach of how the world should view Brunei and have now coalesced into a view of showing the rest of Brunei but also the world individual stories from the country.
Viral Content (back to Top)
Viral content is helpful in understanding the relationship between platform websites and content. Seeing how content spreads without platform websites runs counter to the claim that content isn’t appreciated in the country or it’s hard to know what is going on. In the case of videos uploaded to Youtube, ‘Brunei | “Tattered and Brainwashed”‘ or ‘Sikap anak muda brunei yg suka tunjuk gagah‘ they were spread on social media and messaging services, barely showing up on platform websites. However, Ranoadidas (right pic) referred to videos taken during His Majesty’s meet and greet in the capital in September. Only using text and an image to instigate discussion rather the video itself, discussion was only on Instagram and the videos weren’t posted on his website.
People in their droves poured scorn over the videos mentioned and subsequently shared their grievances on social media, primarily in heated group discussions on Whatsapp. In a video posted by RTB (Radio Televisyen Brunei) News Facebook page (left pic) on the new demerit point system, SiKAP (Sistem Keselamatan Amalan Pemandu) implemented by the Ministry of Communication, shares reached triple figures within a day but a handful comments on the publicly available video itself, showing a move towards private expressions of frustration.
Content can spread easily and quickly without platform websites. However, when it comes to spreading content, platform websites claim they aren’t known or given enough attention in print media. As the founder of the website Brunei Entertainment explains, “I created this website to increase awareness on all food and entertainment in Brunei.” Videos such ‘Brunei | “Tattered and Brainwashed”‘ has been viewed many more times than videos showcasing talent in the country. A search on Youtube for Brunei immediately shows the video on the first page of results, while local content requires going into the other pages of results.
The web series by Visual Dimension Productions, (left above) ‘Break’ was posted on Youtube and their own social media presence only later to be posted on platform websites. Akinari (right above) regularly gets thousands of views for his videos through the nearly 5,000 subscriptions to his Youtube channel. In an interview with The Brunei Times for Youth Speak Akinari mentioned that he doesn’t do a lot to promote his content apart from sharing it on his Facebook account, his videos are spread virally.
The directive announced in July this year by the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) banning daytime dining in Muslim-owned restaurants, adds another perspective to the role of platform websites. Jay on this blog talked about possible issues surrounding the directive and also addressed a comment on Facebook, he was inundated with responses on his blog.
The initial post (right pic) was spread virally after it was posted publicly on Jay’s personal Facebook and Twitter account. Within a space of eight days, he wrote five posts considering various aspects of the directive garnering 119 notes and 30 comments. These numbers don’t fully show the reach the posts had on Whatsapp or Facebook. Content can be easily duplicated by screenshot or by copy and pasting into any text editor without any reference to the original.
The reach of this post can be compared to that of The Brunei Times Bookmarks, which are compilations of archive material on a subject, usually attracting less than ten comments and a handful of likes. These bookmarks are minimally shared on Facebook and Twitter. The most comments a Bookmark received is 135 for “Chasing after Brunei’s runaway scholars”
Recent events such as the Syariah Court Penal Code ruling which is to be introduced in phases, show the viral potential of content. The post which announced the ruling on the day itself has approximately 1,200 likes on Facebook, eventually reaching 143 comments surpassing the most liked and commented article on The Brunei Times website at that time.
Platform websites shy away from posting content with too controversial subject matter but are willing to do so on social media. As mentioned above, Ranoadidas has engaged followers on matters such as the MUIB directive (right pic) but only on Instagram. The photograph of the headline on front page of The Brunei Times was his highest commented post on Instagram with 159 comments and 384 likes. In comparison to previous years, content is far more willingly spread and commented on. Last year Possiblyzebra wrote a two part post on Legislative Council (LegCo) on her blog which arguably would’ve gained a greater reception if it was written this year. The difference between the posts by Ranoadidas and Possiblyzebra is the ability to search for it in the future; a week, a year or even ten years from now. Instagram doesn’t create an easy to recognize unique address for the post, also searches on Instagram are limited to username or hashtag and comments aren’t easy to find.
Beyond Platform Websites (back to Top)
What are the relevance of these platform websites which claim to be portals to Brunei? Content whether positive or negative spreads through social media and messaging services regardless of the source. The format in which the content is shared on blogs have not changed from how it was during the initial “Bang” in 2006: a write-up with some images. However, the way content spreads has changed immensely.
Now businesses primarily use platform websites to promote their products. Content on platform websites are crowded out by adverts, offering products from the same few names. The scope of platform websites have narrowed in comparison to the blogs which sprung up earlier in the decade. In 2011, The Wheat helpfully wrote advice for businesses which still applies to this day. He wrote about adverts on Bruneian websites, “I understand the need to make money, but when I see multiple and obtrusive ad spots all over your page, it really turns me off. To me, it conveys that you value the money from your advertisers more than you value my experience (as a customer / viewer) on your site.”
The “Bang” that LSM wrote about was an exciting moment, not just for the blogging community, but for the country to reflect on themselves and know more about each other. Content covered topics which represented the diversity of its inhabitants. The community on Youtube, Soundcloud and Facebook are vibrant without the reliance on platform websites. Platform websites evolved with the blogging community but when it quieted down, content reverted to businesses and their products rather than originality. There are of course few exceptions to this with podcasting and video content.
Podcasting has been taken up by a few, mostly focusing on niche topics such as films or geek culture but most are defunct. These include: Talking Aloud (who has removed his podcasts from iTunes and his website); Corner Geeks hosted by The Wheat and Firdaus Zailani (last podcast was in May 2013); Visual Dimensions Podcast hosted by Adam Groves (last podcast was in October 2012); and most recently Ranoadidas‘ podcast on movies The Popcorn Panel which was updated last week.
While vlogging or daily video updates has yet to be picked up, a handful of Youtubers from Brunei focus on short films, comedy sketches and trailers for events. Click to view a Youtube list of channels from Brunei.
Looking ahead, websites such as Counter Attack (left pic), Brunei’s online show for the Brunei Fighting Game Community! (FGC) which shares content on Youtube and streams matches on Twitch TV; fashion blogs such as Wander with Ainul (right pic); Tumblrs such as theunspokentruthofhumanity by notamisandrist and websites hosted on WordPress such as Guardians of Darussalam are examples of diverging content. Multimedia on The Brunei Times stand alone website has also been pushing original Brunei content through feature stories. Even Brunei Meme Comic on Facebook shows an array of content out of the realm of platform websites with original things to say about the country. Content from websites like Counter Attack, Wander with Ainul, Guardians of Darussalam lead the way with where we can take online content with fresh approaches and more importantly originality.
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What happened to blogging in Brunei? Why did it slow down?
Do you think platform websites are needed?
What other kinds of online content should we see from Brunei?
Share your thoughts below!
[edited: November 27 11.30am]