Weren’t able to make Paris Fashion Week? Pick up a placard in Arab Spring? Catch the white smoke at the inaugural mass of the new pope? No problem! Someone else was, and they’ll have more than likely posted a thing or two about the event. Bloggers are not the news, nor are they some big shot correspondent for some corporation with an axe to grind. Many of them write simply for the pleasure of putting pen to paper, or, in this case, fingers to keyboard.
The word blog as a legitimate term got its start back in 1999, thanks to a guy called Peter Merholz. He broke up the term “weblog”, which had became a buzzword two years earlier thanks to Jorn Barger, into “we” and “blog” on his blog Peterme.com – it didn’t take long for the noun/verb to catch on. Going back even further, the online diary was the weblog’s forbearer, with Swarthmore College student Justin Hall recognised as one of the first ever diarists, or what we call today blogger.
Here in Ukraine, blogging isn’t a new phenomenon per se. People here are ready, eager even, to publish their thoughts, experiences and ideologies. Why Ukrainians blog, however, runs the gamut of informing the world about events in their country to making the world a better place to making a little money. With blogging philosophies as varied as the country’s varenyky, we follow three local blogs over the course of a couple of weeks, to get a feel for the Ukrainian blogosphere.
Burgers of the Blogosphere
Our first colloquy was with a Ukrainian online journaler Samuel Watkins, a fictional name not unlike his current e-persona Taras Kyiv on Twitter, who also posts, albeit less now than in the past, on Blogger under tap-the-talent. Active since 2005, “Watkins” says with a wink and smile, “You can think of platforms like Blogger as the burgers of the blogosphere, with tonnes of text, pictures and videos. By contrast, Twitter works more like diet soda thanks to its 140-character limit. So when I changed my lifestyle and lost 90lbs, I also kind of migrated from Blogger to Twitter.”
Blogging about the news, current events and “citizen diplomacy”, Watkins, who is a consultant by day, says he wants to fill in the giant gaps left by the West’s mainstream media. It’s important, he says, “to fix the ‘What happens in Kyiv, stays in Kyiv’ black hole that our political elites capitalise on when competing for the West’s attention.” Generally though, blogging he says is a good way to get your point across, to get things get off your chest, and to meet people, which ultimately “saves on lobbyists and therapists”.
Which brings me to another point: his blog says he was born, bred and is based in Kyiv, yet his English, the language he prefers to write in, is better than some native English language speakers, such as those in the Midlands or Glasgow. It makes for a great source for any foreigner who wants to get the inside track on what is happening in the country, as he makes a gallant effort to translate all Ukrainian and Russian news reports as well.
Boys in Trouble has a little bit of a different feel to the online journal tradition, positing itself more as a website than an actual blog. Nevertheless, business analyst Yevheniy Martovoy and interior designer Serhiy Molodzov make sure the content they post is up-to-date where fashion, music, art, people, travel and nuts (a sort of miscellaneous category) are concerned.
With Wordpress as their blog host, Boys In Trouble has been around for a little more two-and-a-half years, and allows the boys to “satisfying a need to express our extrovert characters through sharing things we create ourselves or things we like”. Their general take on life is pretty carefree, with many of their posts reflecting this sort of devil-may-care attitude.
One of their pages, which I find fascinating, is entitled Boys Love. It makes me wonder whether this is a couple of guys or a “couple” of guys. I think I get my answer when I click on it and find items such as the All Saints Harumi Jacket and second issue of Fashion For Men listed under “products we love”. Either way, my query is of little import. These two blog because “demand creates supply, and the opposite is also correct. When people create a product or content, they will most likely find someone to consume it. Blogs are not a basic need, of course, rather something that makes life a little more interesting. Also, while most of the news is somewhat dry, blogs offer personal opinions,” and that’s good enough for us.
The National Blogger
Finally, we come to the least read of all of our bloggers and probably the most humble, the east-dwelling Vyacheslav Gorobets, also known as Narodniy Blogger (national blogger). An entrepreneur by trade, Gorobets is a fascinating case: a little bio about himself found on his blog starts out by saying that he doesn’t like salo, he does not know how to embroider and, surprisingly, does not know the words to the Ukrainian national anthem. However, with some very poetic parts in between, it finishes by saying that he believes in this country where the ground is still “hot from the fire – a fire that has yet to erase the names from the stones of our forgotten ancestors”. It’s deep.
His posts, while not as poetic, do have as equally as much heart, the topics of which – general society, politics, environment, religion – reflect the same cares and concerns of an average citizen of any nation. The only drawback for those who don’t speak the local language is that they are in Russian mostly, and sometimes Ukrainian, which is interesting considering his decent grasp of English. But then, perhaps the English-speaking world is not who his blog is designed for. Regardless, Narodniy Blogger is well aware of the benefits of his posts: “Blogging delivers opinions and events over the country/world at the speed of light. It’s invaluable.”
The Blogger’s Code of Conduct (thanks to media mogul Tim O’Reilly)
• Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog
• Label your tolerance level for abusive comments
• Consider eliminating anonymous comments
• Ignore the trolls
• Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so
• If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so
• Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person
Blogger Speaks About Tweets
Had they passed that Draconian anti-defamation law last year, I would’ve screamed “Freedom!”
Do you know how it sucks to be unable to fully retire from blogging after seven years? Just because someone out there still reads you and you feel like, hey, maybe I owe them something? But with a law like that, my guilt trip would be over. Finally, I’d be free. Free to sit back and relax. Free to watch the current regime dig its own grave deeper and deeper. Twitter-free. But they wouldn’t let me.
You see, in my niche, blogging doesn’t pay. If I could make a dollar on every visit from the US government, I’d be up to my ears in iPhones. Unfortunately, last I checked, the US government couldn’t pay its bills. So unless blogging pays you well, seek life elsewhere. That said, I’ve made some good connections over the years thanks to blogging.
In early 2010, when Good Girl screwed up everything she could and Bad Boy became president, I started losing interest in blogging. I found my new passion in working out. And guess what? I lost 90 lbs in 8 months. One hell of a post-apocalyptic golden parachute, huh?
By that time, the Orange Revolution era of English-language blogging had died, along with all the euphoria. Today, as I look around, I see this one balanced guy in Odesa who still blogs Ukrainian politics and makes sense. Maybe a few more. (No, not the Good Girl vs Bad Boy worshipper types.)
As for me, I’ve run out of boys and girls to worship. If that’s against the law, I’m out. I can’t afford ending such a fine blogging career in infamy. I mean all those mentions/retweets by the NYT News Blog, Guardian News Blog, Le Temps, Kyiv Post and Ukrainska Pravda that I’ve got. Wouldn’t it be a shame to have all that and yet to have nothing to fall back on? Like a bunch of offshore companies maybe? Of which there seem to be so many, on both sides of the political spectrum?
So here I am, still trying to change the world. One tweet at a time.