The biggest moments in Indian blogging history (guest post)

Pramit Singh gives a comprehensive overview of blogging history – and the blogging scene – in India.

During the Mumbai Terror attacks, a blog started by Dina Mehta was perhaps the first place to provide useful links and phone numbers. During the unprecedented Bihar Floods in August 2008, a blog was the first site providing useful information. During the Tsunami in December 2004, another blog came to the rescue. I can go on.

My point is: Indian blogs have proven themselves time and time again when it comes to providing timely information before anyone else.I consider myself relatively late onto the Indian blogging scene: I started blogging seriously in October 2006 [400-odd posts since then means serious enough, don’t you think?]. Before that, I helped train and manage a blog network in India.

Here goes a list of most notable moments in Indian Blogging History – some inspiring, some, umm, maybe not. Enjoy:

Who are the Indian Bloggers?

Miteshvasa did a survey of the State of the Indian Blogosphere in 2006:

  • It seems Indian men are much more blog-active than women. 32,000 males vs. 5,300 females – or 80% male compared to just 13% female. This is a big deviation from the global scenario: 45% male to 38% female.
  • Males: 32,203 (80.2%)
    Females: 5,302 (13.2%)
    Undeclared: 2,623 (6.5%)
  • Around 350,000 bloggers are students (~15.4%). People from the field of education represent another 100,000 bloggers (4.3%) while technology-related bloggers come up third at 81,000 (3.54%). Not far behind are bloggers from the arts, communication/media and engineering.

Female Indian Bloggers

There is no Blogher-type network of female bloggers in India and it is a pity. Last time I checked, they started an ad network focused at women, called Divanation. Damn, the unimaginative name inspires spending.

I would like to think that blogs by women don’t get more nonsense in the form of nasty comments and flame wars. What happens when you post about matters such as domestic violence, gender equality and so on? Is it safe for a female blogger in India and is what happened to Kathy Sierra in America an abberation rather than the rule worldwide?

The three notable female bloggers who come to mind are Rashmi Bansal (http://youthcurry.blogspot.com) who also runs a popular college magazine JAM; Dina Mehta (http://dinamehta.com/) who has been blogging since Mar 2003, and Kamla Bhatt (http://kamlabhattshow.com/) the woman behind the Kamala Bhatt show.

Blogs in vernacular languages

A search for Hindi blogs in Google turns up 18,400,000 results; for Telugu blogs – 1,840,000 results; for Tamil Blogs – 5,100,000 results; for Punjabi blogs -1,590,000 results. I can go on.

A list of notable Indian bloggers across those categories can be found at this link, which is maintained by Amit Agarwal. More about the guy later on.

MSM bullying bloggers

In 2005, Pradyuman Maheshwari, writing at Mediaah criticised the Times of India. TOI sent Maheshwari a seven-page legal threat for libel. The threat works, and Maheshwari decides to close his media-criticism site. Readership at time of closing: 8,000. Maheshwari had complained about TOI’s practice of selling space for photos and profile stories for money under its much-maligned MediaNet initiative.

A word on media criticism in India: Indian blogging still has less than a tenth of the power enjoyed by bloggers in America. In India it appears there is simply no tolerance for criticism within the media, and many tend to look down upon bloggers.

Bloggers bitching

Bloggers vs. reporters: TR Vivek writes for Outlook, the weekly newsmagazine about the Star Syndrome in the Indian Blogosphere:

“For the urban twentysomethings with intellectual pretensions and the hope of being spotted by the commissioning editor of a publishing house, it’s the new P3, or rather the virtual world’s own India International Centre.”

He gets this response.

To publish photos or not: In 2007, bloggers quarrel over the use of Khairlanji atrocity images. Shivam Vjj went ahead and published the disturbing pictures of dead women, while Gaurav Sabnis was against the idea. A fierce debate ensues. Gaurav Sabnis was almost coerced into quitting his IBM job following the IIPM scandal in 2005. [see below]

Bloggers becoming reporters and authors

Amit Varma, pioneering blogger at indiauncut.com , went on to write for MINT business newspaper, winning the Bastiat prize for reporting and is now writing his novel “My Friend Sancho”. Varma also liveblogged the Mumbai Terror Attacks.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writing at the Compulsive Confessor blog got herself a book deal owing to her racy, revealing posts. Her book ‘You are here?‘ was published by Penguin India, a major publisher.

Mayank Austen Soofi, who blogs at http://pakistanpaindabad.blogspot.com, was approached by the Oxford University Press in Karachi who will be including material from his blog in a Pakistani Class XI school textbook. Soofi had invited Pakistanis from all walks of life to list the “five best things” about their country on his blog.

Indian Group Blogs

Nothing beats the power of channelling people’s efforts in a group blog. Desipundit, started by U.S.-based Indian students, was a pioneer in this field. Others include:

Entrepreneur and Corporate Bloggers

Rajesh Jain of Indiaworld fame is a pioneering blogger in this field and regularly writes smart pieces at his Emergic blog.

Owners of web startups like Sanjiv Bikchandani of Naukri.com were, unsurprisingly, the first to take up blogging. Bikchandani has done the smart thing: hosting his blog at a different location, instead of the usual location for many corporate blogs, namely ‘http://acme.com/blog or blog.acme.com‘. A Forrester report this month has written about how few people trust corporate blogs. Hosting a blog somewhere else and having a genuine voice is a start.

Some other corporate blogs can be found herehere and here

Bloggers Uniting for a Cause

Activism blogging is something we need more of in India and this is also the future of news. Shanmugam Manjunath, an engineer with an oil company, was murdered in Bihar. As a manager of IOC, Manjunath had shut down a pump that was selling adulterated fuel. In no mean time, Indian bloggers here and abroad had launched a concentrated campaign in support of Manjunath. For example, here.

Likewise, during the Coca Cola water controversy bloggers had written in support of Sunita Narain‘s noble cause.

So far, no one has taken the government to task on a big scale and issues abound everywhere. I had written about the Government’s ham-handed approach to land acquisition vis-a-vis SEZs (Special Economic Zones) and archaic laws. But that is all I could do. Fortunately, people have risen against SEZs throughout the country and I am happy to report that many related big business plans have come undone.

Bloggers have covered the Nandigram tussle between Mamata Banerji’s people and CPM thugs and the state machinery as well. For example, here.

Indian Media Plagiarizing from Bloggers (or, bloggers highlighting cases of MSM misdeeds)

This is a rich vein, with The Times of India leading the field:

Bloggers who have made their millions from blogging

Yes, we have our own Michael Arrington – Amit Agarwal, who blogs about tech tips and tricks at Labnol aka DigitalInspiration, and who reportedly makes a six-figure (dollars) income from the exercise.

Journalists who blog

You can organize these into two broad categories: blogs run by newspapers and TV channels (essentially articles online with a comment feature); and independent blogs written by journalists. Ravish Kumar, who works for NDTV India TV news channel, for instance writes a good freewheeling blog.

Celebrity bloggers

The discerning reader will discover that actors only blog when a major events happens or when their movie is due to release. But while bloggers may remain skeptical about the whole exercise, the general online Indian audience is seemingly enthralled by celebrity bloggers, ever since the news that a social networking site funded by Anil Ambani, the same man who is funding Spielberg, paid Rs. 100 crore ($20 million) to the actor Amitabh Bachhan to blog. Other blogging actors include Aamir Khan, who used to to announce that his dog’s name is Shahrukh Khan (a rival).

Directors took up blogging earlier than actors. Shekhar Kapoor of “Bandit Queen” fame was first off the block, followed by the Quentin Tarantino/Tarsem Singh of India, Anurag Kashyap who wrote the script for the seminal “Satya” . The talkative Karan Johar also blogs.

The quality of writing varies. Grandstanding is rife. I am not looking for Erroll Morris-like quality on these director blogs.

Bloggers vetting politicians

Considering how little we know about our elected representatives – tax records, criminal antecedents, business dealing, mistresses and so forth – it was good to see bloggers write passionately about Pratibha Patil, our President-to-be at the time and her “visions”.

Expressing concerns about the ills of ceremonial posts, a blogger writes, “a system that accords unaccounted privileges to VIPs will end up undermining us, the people”.

Bloggers versus big business: the IIPM controversy

In October 2005 bloggers Gaurav Sabnis and Amit Kapoor (a Professor at MDI, Gurgaon) along with Rashmi Bansal wrote about the veracity of print advertisements given out by a business school in New Delhi, The Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM).

IIPM used all its muscle in silencing the bloggers and it looks as if it succeeded. Apart from Businessworld and Outlook magazines, no one else in the Indian media was brave enough to forego ad income from IIPM (the 7th largest print advertiser at the time) and cover the story, bringing it to its logical end.

While Gaurav Sabnis resigned from his IBM job, Prof. Kapoor stopped writing for his blog altogether.

IIPM still buys out front pages of newspapers to print its heavy-duty ads.

I was building the team at Instablogs Blog Network at the time. Still new at blogging. The IIPM story was the first big story we covered. You can read about it hereherehere and here.

Blog Monkeys and India

What is a Blog Monkey? The term is derived from SEO Monkeys, a derogative term for lowly-paid SEO people working for Indian SEO firms, doing mostly low-level off-page SEO jobs including much-maligned Comment Spamming.

The Blog Monkey writes spammy, heavily rewritten (or copies from RSS posts) 100-word blog posts to make Adsense money.

I think there are more than 100,000 blog monkeys in India, writing for SEO firms, blog networks, and for themselves. Thanks to the Blog Monkeys and the SEO monkeys, Indian blogging enjoys a shady name in certain quarters overseas.

Where do we stand now?

Then are some, including some bloggers, who say that not enough Indian bloggers are providing user-generated content.

To them, I say, wait and watch.

The normal Indian citizen is not as blessed with the same resources as those in developed countries, but we are finding our way.

No one is funding citizen bloggers to perform useful reporting out here – and I am not counting the pay per post spam-blogging deals. Hell, the largest cash-rich newspaper brands in India pay Rs. 2000/month ($40) to their stringers in each district.

I believe Bloggers in India must be ‘a real agent of change’. Craig Newmark says that the role of newspapers is to provide customer service to the community. As bloggers, as Indian bloggers we must each find our own communities to serve.

Will a P.Sainath of Indian blogging appear? Will someone start covering issues that matter to the community? Will bloggers start to graduate from easy opinion-blogging to hard reporting?
Sure, sure. The Great Indian ‘Jugad‘ will happen.

That is all folks. Are these the biggest moments in Indian blogging history? Feel free to add your suggestions.

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5 thoughts on “The biggest moments in Indian blogging history (guest post)

  1. Vivek

    Am surprised such a wonderful and informative post has no comments!

    this is an awesome post!

    I bumped into this one as part of my ‘homework’ to kick start a photo journalism blog. I’m based in Hyd and I blog just for fun/ hobby. Let me know if you have any lead to get me started. 🙂

    Reply

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