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Blog-bazi aur Bayan-bazi

Krish Raghav of Mint got in touch with me through email. He said they are doing a feature on the 'Blog in India', critically examine the blogosphere and blogging in India, as its been exactly 10 years since the founding of the popular blogging tools of today (Blogger, Livejournal).

So, he sent me a couple of interesting questions and I tried to be coherent in my answers. It was tough to be coherent , I was facing an erratic Internet connection at the time and and an eternal Power outage, I was high on lead fumes of a buzzing inverter.[ Five minute break. Believe me, Power Outage again.] I think it may have lead me to go into Dilip Kumar of Mashaal (1984) mode, it's that 'never understood in its time' Yashraaj film in which Dilip Kumar delivered the famous heart wrenching line, 'Eh Bhai, Koi Gaadi Roko Bhai, Koi Gaadi Roko Bhai, Gaadi Roko Bhai.'

Here's the Q/A session (I have cleaned up my Answers a bit, grammar and speeling and all, but then the text is still true to the basic idea of Dilip Kumar, 'Gaadi Roko Bhai':

Q. Where do you think the future of the blog is headed in India? Has it reached an impasse, with sites like Twitter, or is it moving to a more audio-visual medium with Youtube and the rest? Or is it still going to see a spurt of growth?

I believe services like Twitter and Facebook are helping blogs too, they are working with the blogs, if you like share it around using these services. It's like that. I have a feeling that twitter in India is going through an 'Early Orkut' phase in which people are just increasing their friend list. Some of my posts have been twitted by people who had more than 500 followers and yet the post received only a dozen or so hits. Blogs will survive and continue to thrive. 'Content is the king' people keep saying it on all those 'better blogging' blogs. And I think it's true. If you have something unique...people will come. But yes, the nature of content will certainly change, maybe more videos and more of podcasts will come out from India. Maybe in half-a-decade or so, finally, we will see Indians in all those Indian News channel shows in which they show bloopers, funny cool stuff that people in west do for camera. Or may be not. A decade ago, did Indians start capturing their bloopers or cool stuff on VHS. It was a phenomenon in the west. Most of those bloopers on News Channel are from the VHS era. The shows are popular in India, but we didn't make those videos. I think there was one Indian TV show on those lines but can't even recall its name. May be it's a culture thing. The people in the west who were earlier making this cool stuff for VHS and for viewing among friends and family, now make cool videos for Youtube. They have partnership and revenue sharing deals with youtube. In India, only big video distributors have actual revenue sharing deals with Youtube. While dinosaurs are dying in west, in India they have got a new lease of life.

These things, creating original videos/podcasts are time consumers and people in India don't have time. Time is money. There has to be money in it. And there is almost none. It's almost a scandal that a popular film blog like PFC with great traffic, great following, a corporate sponsor (ndtv lumiere), revenue from Adsense and a slew of celeb bloggers (Anurag Kashyap, just to name one ) still has to rely on donation from readers to keep it going month after month. And this is a film blog, so I don't know when we will reach a stage where people donate to keep a really noble project like wikipedia running. And there's more to it that reveals an aspect of Indian blogging scene.

Q. how do you think Indian blogs stack up with, say, south east asia or the UK and US, where bloggers are almost mainstream celebrities? Why do you think blog subjects are a bit restricted here in India?
Indian bloggers still have a long way to go. Sure there are a few bloggers who are now sort of celebrities - got book deals and all. But still, in India, celebrity blogging is the big news. And that's a part of the problem and a reflection on our society. Some of the best blogs about India are run by desis, some of the best fun blogs about Bollywood are actually run by non-Indians. Some of the best followed blogs in India are by people who are in some way already writing for a living. Bright people. Where are the amateurs and the common people who have other passions? Well, people would rather spend time reading pieces written by authorities on the subject. About Bollywood, Politics, Cricket, no authority required and so they remain popular subjects in India.

Q. In a way, would you say that the Blog has been a 'success' in India? Has it been the vehicle for activism and for marginalized  voices? Or is it still early days, and therefore too early to tell? 

Concept of Blog has been a success in India in the sense that people in India take written word very seriously. So words written on blogs, as they become more visible, as they keep showing up on search result pages, Blogs too are assumed to be serious. ' People in India worship authority', it is often said and in the online world, this leads to a new kind of scenario. There are still browsers in India who don't know the difference between Websites and blogs, people who see flash based Ads on a blog and think it must be a big reliable website to be running such flashy ads (oddly enough, most people in west would probably testify that they abhor intrusive ads) and more importantly, if these people see a word is on the web, they believe it serious and these readers may applaud or throw brickbats with the same intensity. To them it doesn’t matter that the writer may just be a teenage kid living in Hoshiarpur who has no friends and maybe has read too many magazines. No, the 'analysis' has to be 'critiqued'.

It can be funny at times, I wrote a post on a campaign by Greenpeace which I was sure no one will ever read, but within minutes, it got a slew of comments lambasting Greenpeace. I was later surprised to find out that all the comments had come from a single IP address with the person commenting using different names and profiles. I had to conclude that may be this was a job by 'low cost' IT- labour hired by the big firm to fight its PR war on the web (objective: bore innocent bloggers to death with stupid comments).

Then there are people in India who still think of Wikipedia as a static encyclopedia, the final word. They don't realize that the wiki article that they are quoting may have been edited by that kid from Hoshiarpur. Interestingly, in my personal experience on Wikipedia, I have noticed that the article about even most obscure a topic, like a poet from Kashmir, has a person from west contributing to it...making it better.  on top of this, it is funny that while the neutrality of wiki article about Kashmir Conflict ( and many other India related stuff ) is perpetually in conflict, the article about Arab Israeli conflict is clean and neutral. Again it's not just a cultural thing that keeps those articles in conflict, but it's the way written word is perceived in this part of the world. A wiki article becomes a matter of war, a matter of life and death. fight for truth. And the wiki talk page for these articles end up looking like those Rediff message boards.

Similar is the case with blogs. Activism is certainly there. Too much passion. Join this campaign, join that campaign. Some real actions also. It's true that some good has come out of it, but is it the 'Seventh Estate' - the final guard? I doubt it. Is it an organic out shoot of a culture that's always looking inside and constantly working for betterment? I seriously doubt it. Had it been so, we would have seem more blogs about what real material good they are bringing to the community, and these blogs would have real followers. Is it the voice for the marginalized? Not entirely. Like with the mainstream media, blogs too are actually colored with class interest. But then a person may never say or do things that a corporate, an enterprise, a group say and do. So the ethics are a bit clearer, giving blogs a ring of earnestness. For example: during Advaniji's Adsense blitzkrieg during election, some bloggers did block his ads from displaying on their blogs, even though it was one on the best money making ads at the time. I don't think mainstream media can afford such ideas.

In the end blogs are nothing but a reflection of the neighborhood, society and country. Blogs are people in constant conversation, more often then not, with just themselves.

Image: Dilip Kumar with his Pickaxe in song 'saathi haath badhana' from color version of film 'Naya Daur' (1957).
August 11, 2009
Story is out in The Mint. It's going to be a four part series with each part looking at a different aspect of blogging.
Here's the first part of the brilliant series: Indian blogs remain mostly urban, niche
[I actually managed to have the proverbial last word in the first part :) ]


  1. Dear me, "A decade on, Indian blogs remain mostly urban, niche". D-uh, sez I!! Also totally second the Bard when he finds comparisons odious. Us and India, seriously, dude, look at their internet penetration and look at ours. The arithmetic's so obvious!
    As for "In the end blogs are nothing but a reflection of the neighborhood, society and country.". Amen to that.


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