Understanding Blogs and Blogging Culture in Kenya- Why Kahenya Missed the point
So Kahenya today had a piece on Daily Nation Technology section talking about how bloggers are cheaply shrewd by marketers, and are quickly losing the plot. The main point is that bloggers have been compromised and no longer the independent voices of reasoning. I get the point of what Kahenya is saying, it is something which Archer alluded to sometime back on his blog title Is Social Media slowly turning us into seal-clappers? . But I have different take and somehow I disagree with them. Kahenya’s article dwell largely on tech blogs and this being one of them, I thought is time to make something right.
To start with why do people blog in the first place? I would assumed that everyone knows the answer to that but for the sake of the whole humanity let me try to answer it. The history of blogs show that in the beginning blogs were like personal diaries. Individuals would put down their thoughts about the personal things going on their lives . So like diaries blogs were done to indicate future events or at the end of the day to reflect on what has happened during the day. Although they were like diaries then, still you have to appreciate that not everyone would like to put their diaries in the open for the public. With that in mind some took the route of talking about topical issues of the day. So with time, a number of people decided to systematically move from the “I” “i” “i” , to to the second or third parties as the subject matters. So people moved from talking about “i this”,” i that” to issues, products, services, things, gossips and others started to use it to wage personal fights with rivals or perceived enemies.
Then came some clever people who took blogging to a whole new level, having started from the same route. At this point the likes of Politico, Huffingtonpost, Techruch, Mashable can no longer be called blogs. But they were all blogs at one point run by individuals. Now this is important. In any field there must be an exit strategy, where the old get out of the scene and the young take over.Blogging is not different and you can only do it at the same level as the energy exist for you to do so. We all can agree that creating content is not easy…original content for that matter. So what are the exit strategies for blogging? 1 Make it big like the likes of Mashable , Techcrunch of these world 2. Hang on there but become dormant..3. Quit blogging and become a journalist 4. Retire and move to the other field 5. Become a VC (tech bloggers)
One known fact is that Kahenya was once one of the most prolific Kenyan bloggers who took the easy route out to be part of Nation Media. Now he is essentially a journalist …you can see an exit route there. But it is more complex than that because journalists too are crossing over to blogging in bigger numbers than the bloggers like Kahenya going on that direction. That bring us back to the question of why do people blog? What I know is that each individual has his/her personal reasons for starting a blog. With that in mind , I don’t think it is completely right to say that bloggers have been compromised without first understanding the history of each individual blogger. Since blogs moved from being like diaries people now have different reasons for blogging. Higher purpose, Money, Change the world, Truth teller, War Zone combat tool, Fame, Gossip, Political Propaganda machine… name it
Let start with those who do it for money, because that is where I think the bigger problem is. Doing content is hard as I have mentioned and for me I would encourage anybody who does it for money to continue and go for more money. For start some people think bloggers are idle people who sit there just to make noise…It would be very wonderful to make them pay for the noise. . Why do I say this, because blogs are personal but there is cost involved in maintaining them. If you have self hosted blog you have to have server and with more traffic coming in, means you have to dig deep in your pocket to maintain it. I do register domains and host sites for bloggers and most of them don’t last past the first year. Then there is the cost of being online, Safaricoms, AccessKenyas, Oranges of these world will not want to know that you are the voice of reasoning so you get the internet for free. And then finally the time factor. That said, does doing it for money means being compromised? I don’t think so.
May be I am going a head of myself, what does it mean to be compromised? The first step is to clearly understand the word “compromised”. Kahenya’s article confused me a bit, at one point is like saying that it is bad , the bloggers are losing it and then at the other point he seems to be saying that it is good but bloggers are being cheap. According to Kahenya:
” Let me put it in black and white. Many bloggers have been compromised. Flashy new gadgets, subsidized bandwidth, a couple of freebies, fancy events with free food and drinks will get them to sing whatever song the corporate institutions want them to sing” .
We would imagine that the price it would take to get a blogger to toe the marketers’ line would be much higher, but it seems a new device is adequate enough to make them lose objectivity.
Ok now you understand what it means to be compromised. If you look at the above statements, you would imagine that the only thing that make someone to start blogging is to get a gadget, freebies, drinks or whatever . If you have been around like Kahenya, you would expect him to understand that many bloggers have done these blogging thing for many years without getting anything in return. They love what they do and just that a corporate comes a long does not change that fact. The thinking behind Kahenya’s statement and many others which I have seen around is the notion that the bloggers, should be seen to be constantly fighting something, someone. If you happen to agree with a company, Government or something then you are already a sell out. being a blogger to me is higher than that, bloggers are meant to build the society around them. It means standing for the right thing, helping people understand complex issues, starting up discussions and shaping the future of Kenya. I have always believed that activism without proper alternative solution is a lost course . So if you going to criticize a company then at least give them an alternative solution or what else can be done..if you are going to point out the wrong things about an institution or product or a service it is only right to say the good things too.
Tech blogs is the center of Kahenya’s article so let me go deeper to what we do at Kachwanya.com and see if we are already been compromised. I regularly review mobile phones, I get called in a number of occasions by the phone manufacturers when they have new gadgets to test/use and review. So I try them, note down what I like, and what I don’t like. Once through I do posts on these gadgets. At the same time during the launch for the said gadgets, I get invites to attend the events. Since I blog about mobile phones, social media, Start-ups, internet and Kenyan tech industry in general, I get invites to several events in a week. So at the end I choose to attend one or two depending whether I think the new product is unique and I need to attend and learn more. So yes, I get the flashy gadgets to review but does that makes me compromised? It is hard to believe but nobody has ever told me what not to say in my blog. My interest on computers and mobile devices run way back, way back when I was still a kid and literally I spent 365/1 of my life reading about, working with, trying to influence how a computer device works. So when I see a good device I will say so, if a company constantly make good devices I will continue to say so…if that is what is called being compromised, then I am comfortable being compromised.
If you look at it from the corporate point of view, Kahenya confused PR with Marketing. In Kenyan most marketers are still clueless on how online works. The marketers are stuck on the number game and the traditional method give them unclear big sounding numbers( works on assumptions). The digital world came in with precise and clear way to measure and that is confusing the bosses. Anyway, it is the PR people who floods bloggers mail boxes with press releases(Not all bloggers, mainly tech and business bloggers). It simple, for the marketers, they have to pay to run the ads while PR look at bloggers as media and should be interested on any new story. If there is any lesson from this, PR people should bring in their marketing wings to start paying the bloggers for marketing for them…
Having said that, I think Kahenya brought up some important points, especially on the diversity of blogging. It mostly assumed that there are excess tech bloggers in Kenya, but it is clear that the number is not enough. And I keep on saying that we need more bloggers in the important areas like Agriculture, environment and climate change. Agriculture is the backbone of this country and the need for bloggers to talk about agriculture can never be overemphasized. You can see we have rain now, but is there somebody out there planning for the future? May be next year we wouldn’t have the rain and at the end of the year people will be starving. We should be ashamed that at that point the leadership will go out on a begging bowl.
Overall, if true that bloggers are compromised, then I would say that it is a big opportunity for those who are not compromised to fill the space. I mean don’t sit there and complain, do something by being the new voice of reasoning. After all to start a blog is easy and simple.