Giving Birth To The Middle East’s Blogosphere

Dubai-based radio show hosts a blogathon to talk about existing approaches and aspirations of new and old school bloggers. PSFK analyzes the 2-hour segment to find key trends in the region’s emerging blogosphere.

Dubai Eye 103.8FM put together an impressive group of blogger panelists to shed light on motivations behind why people in the Middle East are blogging and how their influence has grown over the past 5-6 years. The blogathon’s panelists included SeaBee, Husain Al-Tamimi, Sarah Walton, Micheline Hazou, Bébhinn Kelly, Sara Refai, and Roba Al Assi. The show was hosted by Alexander McNabb and Suzanne Radford. Most of these bloggers are expatriates, and all of them write only in English.

Alexander mentions that the first wave of blogs started in 2005/2006 with the creation of a  blog community directory that lists all UAE blogs (most Middle East countries have this type of online directory for their blogs). While there are countless factors that motivate bloggers today, this post seeks to find common threads amongst the Middle East and UAE’s influential blogosphere, citing trends that seem to be driving blogger culture in the region. You will notice that many of these motivations and trends are universal and exist for bloggers everywhere.

Social Change: Venting Leads to Greater Things
Who-Sane is one of the earliest adopters of blogging in the Middle East. He sticks true to the ‘ranting and rambling’ roots of blogging. He recalls a pivotal emotional incident in 2007 where his father was mistreated in a Jordanian public hospital; blogging about his father’s negative experience lead to the firing of the director of the hospital after the King of Jordan visited the hospital incognito to view the poor condition of the hospital.

Sara Refai, a blogger writing about her volunteering experience in Palestine, had a similar story. Within a week, she gathered funding ($18,000) to save the life of a child. This event has lead institutions and non-profits in the region to look at blogging as a key touchpoint in their fundraising efforts.

Key Trend: Who-Sane pinpoints that the role of bloggers has shifted from being commentary providers to being news-makers, making them valuable resources to mainstream media. Emotionally empowered writing is not only valid, but adds to the authenticity of the news-maker that often results in action from their readers.

Embracing the Unknown: Filling in a Cultural Need
Whereas cultures in the west are over-saturated with information, information in the Middle East can be quite sparse. Bébhinn Kelly recalls how difficult it was to find information on fashion and started Hellwa Fashion to cast a local perspective on the fashion industry and shopping. Later on, she would add a blog component to the site and noticed how later on everyone that liked to get dressed in the morning was talking about fashion online.

Micheline Hazou is a cheerful blogger with her roots in traditional journalism. Her audience on Twitter started a hashtag in her name (#michcafe) and convinced her to start blogging. On air she cites how difficult it was to work without an editor but how liberating the ability to share her personal experiences was for her. Pascal Assaf, a Lebanese blogger, assisted in getting her blog off the ground.

Key Trend: Whether blogging by demand or to fill a gap in Internet content, these two bloggers are unique in their comfort with the unknown. They were motivated to enter the blogosphere by focusing on a niche community that seemed ‘already there’. It was just a matter of taking a step forward.

Postcard Theory: Blogging to Keep in Touch
Both Sarah Walton and Sara Refai cited their distance from their families as the primary reason they decided to blog. Both moved to new countries with different missions and interests, but they seek to provide an insider’s perspective on their unique personal experiences away from home.

Key Trends: Blogging helps make sense of the world and bring others into your perspective; they also provide space for intellectual/emotional depth and allow for self-expression and conversation.

No Imperatives: Dealing with PR Companies
SeaBee is an Australian blogger that has lived in Dubai for nearly 15 years and offers a critical perspective on his environment. When he was approached by a PR company to be flown out to Thailand in exchange for 25 blog posts on Thailand, he said no, “You make a decision on these things early on. I don’t want anything to influence what I’m writing. You got to have credibility”

The show juxtaposes SeaBee with Bébhinn Kelly, who has deep connections with PR companies and works within the sexiest industry vertical: fashion. “I do earn money from advertising, but I always clearly mark that… I’m a professional blogger, I want to invest in Hellwa Fashion, I want to grow the blogosphere as a whole”

Key Trends: Hellwa Fashion and SeaBee are diametrically opposed in many ways. Bébhinn Kelly represents a newer generation of blogger and sees herself as a small business, with an allegiance to product brands and agencies. SeaBee is about the conversation, whereas Hellwa Fashion is about the money. Both are about giving back to their readers.

[via Spot On PR]

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