Friday, November 15, 2013

'Scuse me I'm a blogger

So there was a huge commotion and ruckus rather recently in cybersphere between two people I do know.

In one corner we have a very upright, standup type of guy who I've known for ages. He was sent a rather nasty email that came from a blogger who threatened, rather maliciously to smear the reputation of his business because of a tardy email reply.

In the other corner, a young girl whom I've met, and on all occasions has been nothing but sociable and friendly. A blogger who seemed to be very enthusiastic about her new foray into the realm of social media AS A JOB.

Yes. I repeat. BLOGGING AS A JOB.

Why I bring this story up? It is not because I am keen on rehashing old news. Hence why I am not even bothering sharing the screen grabs of the email. The comments that followed. Or even her reply.

First of all. My name was tagged in the post that eventually went viral. Because yes. I used to blog.

What is this I am reading now then? You might ask.

Well. Ok. This is a blog. Kinda. Sorta.

I write musings when I feel up to it. And I usually rely mostly on social media to express myself. This is very different from when I maintained a blog as #hostsara on #moblogs. A website that was truly before its time, and pioneered by two really cool people at Singtel.
Background/ Backstory

The blog was awesome because way back in 2003, anyone, when registered as a moblogger, could upload diary entries via sms. Much like a tweet. To update your status.

If you wanted to write slightly more, you could even upload an MMS- a picture, with longer text, very similar to what Instagram is today.

You could also upload videos via MMS - which is very similar to what instagram has, except - even better. Because as you could upload about 30 seconds of video- or whatever was compressable for an MMS. 

Then of course, you could go on to the website, and blog like you would on wordpress or livejournal or blogger. With ease. And all the different trimmings like add a pic etc.

You could also have galleries. Much like facebook and flickr. When I would go for a trip for instance, I would upload 30 to 40 photos in there, to show people what my trip was like.

And that's not all. One of the key features of the site, was its ability to let users talk to each other via sms. Without the exchange of phone numbers. Therefore making it much safer. Very much like the twitter platform, all you had to do was send an sms, starting with the nickname of the moblogger you wanted to leave a message for, and voila. He or she would receive it on their phone. Real time. Like a real sms. And they'd know its from you because your nickname would be there.

We had several cool things that we did as well. We had moblog mydreamd8. The winners, Posha Rai and Edmund Heng, met during that contest. Went on the lovely romantic cruise they had won. AND - they are still happily married to each other till this day. I think that's pretty cool.

We had moblog idol - that unveiled stars like Desmond Tan and Andie Chen, who are now bonafide actors and superstars in their own right.

We even had Samsung idol, where people competing to win new Samsung technology would write posts and contributions made on their samsung devices.

And, we had National Day moblogs. Which- let me tell you. Was incredible. People who registered and smsed during the National Day Parade (including people like famous director Jack Neo) would get their messages flashed across the TV screens like "dedications".

Sadly this service did not reach its full potential because users were limited to people who had registered mobile phone numbers that started with +65.

Moblogs, sadly, was eventually terminated by Singtel, who deemed the service not profitable, somewhere in 2006. 

A shame. Considering apps with way less functionality, have sold for way more in recent days. 


At the height of this phase, I would actually get more than 6000 smses a day from fans who wrote to me. Spoke to me. And have live, real time conversations with me.

I'd get more than 10 thousand unique hits a day on my blog alone.

And despite all this "power" and "fame" - never. Ever. Did I use this for the wrong reason.

Now I know that STOMP has its good qualities. As does the immediacy of social media.

There is this thing that I have talked about with a friend who I consider a "powerful blogger" - with a reach of more than 100k followers on twitter alone that he termed, "THE POWER OF A TWEET".

I myself, have seen its might.

I have had instances where a earpiece is practically melded to my face, while I am put on hold after my psycho-motor skills have been tested by a series of complicated button-pressing routines issued to me by a robot. Only to be rewarded by hours of ghastly elevator music- probably the aforementioned robot showing off her skills- while my jaw starts to lock and my chin starts to cramp.

I can think of more pleasurable occasions to reach the latter combination I might add.

The worst is when after a loooong wait, you hear static, a distant voice trying to say hello in an accent you recognise as foreign, before hearing it. THE TONE OF DISCONNECT DEATH.

After several harrowing experiences, I have resorted to tweeting my problems. Adding in the handle of the companies in question.

Most, reply with startling immediacy. Usually never exceeding 24 hours.

(I could elaborate, and give examples of companies which have done this well, and those which have poor social media skills, but I don't want to let people think this is a sponsored post.)

But, this is truly an amazing phenomenon.

In my years as a journalist, I found that I started writing less on my blogs. Also, because my opinions expressed always have to explicitly be stated as my own, and not my employers. Coupled with the fact that I maintained really long and irregular work hours with lots of writing involved I usually was all written out at the end of a work day. My blogging dwindled to well...

Let's just say that my 5 blogs have missed me and if they were hooked up to a heart rate monitor, they would have flatlined.

But in those years, I also saw how journalists had a considerable disdain for bloggers. Not only were these social media sluts now taking up the front rows in fashion shows, usually reserved for editors, they were cramping them out of food tastings. They were being treated like celebrities. They were being lavished with gifts that us, as credible journalists, are not allowed to receive, and must declare to our superiors. Most of the time, these items are sold. Donated with the sale money going to charity. Or, if editors deign us as worthy of a little treat or two, allow us the privilege of "buying" the item. (Proceeds also donated to charity.)

Well. I'm not sure about you, but that is how it works in my current place of employment.

Is this bad? Well. Truly. It does suck for us. But, the superiors, in their divine wisdom, purport the fact that they do not want us to be bought. Our reviews. Our opinions. Cannot be sold for the price of a snazzy new piece of technology that others might queue for hours to obtain.

They do not want us to sing praises of a fashion show that might have literally, been rucksacks draped on a model, to be described of as "ethereal", "must buy" or "genius", just because the fashion house might have gifted us with an It Bag.

Bloggers however, are exempt from these limitations.

They are gifted. A lot. And often.

And many of them, are paid. SERIOUS SUMS OF MONEY. Very much more than what we, as journalists are paid.

Rumour has it that a certain doyenne of blogging, who did steadily gain fame after participating in the first Moblog contest, makes $150 THOUSAND a year. Kudos to her.

I myself have wondered what the heck am I doing, working this hard. Sometimes for not so pleasant people in charge of my destiny - (I have to interject and say my current boss is ace) - when people like the aforementioned blogger, with her steady following, has photos on her instagram advertising a good deal. A discount offered to getting your stuff featured on her instagram site for a mere $600. SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.  IS A DISCOUNT. So she will wear the clothes she is given. Or use the products she is gifted. And feature them in photographs.



I wonder why I even stopped blogging. Sigh.

If there is ever a have your cake and eat it too moment. I am guessing, this is it.

There are also the ones who get free trips. Flown all over the place. Get free meals. Free stays. Free air tickets.

And the thing is... the more reliable ones. The ones who actually do have a legitimate following. Are revered. They can make or break your restaurant or hotel with a single blog review. So if you want them to write something nice. They are paid. And then courted like the world's most beautiful woman.

Now, being friends with professional bloggers myself. I know some of the frustrations. People immediately assume you are a freeloader some times who will be content with a free ride. If blogging is your livelihood - adsense or nuffnag, will hardly be enough to sustain you. These are people who have gone off the grid. Some who gave up legitimate jobs to do what they love with no gurantee of a monthly income. So sponsored reviews and advertorials, are the only way to make a decent living.

But, because of this. Despite the whole blogging industry sagging over the last few years. Blogging has again, become big business. Blogging. Burgeoning. Boom.

Where previously, every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally called themselves a model, even if they had merely a blogshop face. Now, every other person, left right and centre, is a blogger. And with the obvious perks, including companies kowtowing at your feet and throwing gifts your way in fear of getting bad press in the big worldwideweb, everyone including my cousin's friend's grandfather's neighbour and her kitchen sink - has been trying to get on the bandwagon.

The tale of a dude, who totally quit his job a few years ago, just so he could live his dream and travel is not so novel anymore. Where writing a blog for him to journal his life might have been unique back then, now there are a thousand-and-one others who write lists. Give you the top five things to do in a city. Who go on free travel junkets and send one or two pictures and write one miserable post that maybe, realistically, only ten people read.

Where the Sartorialist and his partner -whom he met through his sartorial travels- Garance Dore, used to take pictures of fashionable people at fashion shows or in fashionable cities were once considered out of the box. Unique. Cool. It was not long before other famous sites with a similiar slant, like The Facehunter emerged. And now, at every fashion show in every major city, and even in small towns, there are aspiring fashion bloggers and rail-thin tweens trying to be the next Rumi Neely or Bryanboy - whom we know, has already made it to mainstream fame with his stint on America's Next Top model as the social media judge - being photographed and paparazzied not just by legit press, but by any DSLR-toting hipster/Sartorialist-wannabe who owns a style blog.

So naturally, it didn't take long for fashion companies to cotton on and throw outfits and accessories to those regularly featured. Who, probably, are way easier to handle, and less demanding than celebrities. Camera companies, phone companies were also quick to throw their goods at those who would take these photos.

So let's talk about these blogs then for a moment. Some aren't blogs anymore. They've migrated to legitimate .com sites. Domains that are their own. Named after themselves. That they maintain themselves. They lend a site more credibility. Like a legit business. It is also why I don't consider myself a blogger because one of these very same professionals, called this very blog "a mickey mouse site". Because I have no focus. No one thing. And this blog is functioning as I thought blogs should. Personal musings. As and when I like. Not limiting me to one topic. A blog by definition, is an online journal afterall. Apparently, I am naiive. This is MY site. And I hardly even spellcheck. But this is my sanctuary. And I'm not being paid to do this as a source of my income. So... like it. Or leave it.

And can I just say, while some of these sites are completely entertaining. Some of the blogs, are exactly as blogs usually are. Self-indulgent. This is fine if you are like me, and aren't professing yourself to be a professional.

But. Selfies. Ootds. Outfits that scream - this was given to me for free/ I was invited to a sample sale if not I really could not afford this. Why are they being paid to also get free stuff. *pout* I ALSO WANT!

Some lead glamourous lifestyles, being flown all over the world and wined and dined. Let's not forget, these are usually accompanied by the annoying humble brag facebook status updates.

I can't help but feel slightly cantankerous. And a little sad for my fellow colleagues who have trained for years to hone their skills under professors who have screamed while tearing up their written work, strict editors with bad tempers, and newsmakers who either, bug you non-stop to make sure you have a really nice photo of them published, or say you have mis-quoted them when the article goes to print. Despite the fact that you fact-checked and even re-checked what they've said with them, personally, a few times, paranoid by the threat of law suits.

While these bloggers write glowing reviews of the hotel/fashion brand/computer/alcohol/ lingerie/watch etc, champagne flute in hand - there is a frazzled looking journalist, notebook and pen in hand. Scribbling notes furiously. Being thrown out of fashion shows. Blacklisted by those one writes less than stellar reviews for. And ignored by the very same PR companies who once treated you like a media darling, but the moment you switch your beat, your role, or your quit your job, suddenly render you as useless deadweight. No longer invite you to parties. Don't make eye contact with you when you go with a friend as a plus one. And if you thought any of your conversations prior were genuine - well, think again because they seldom will spare more than a hello for you now. Because excuse me, another blogger just stepped into the function. And we so need her to write good stuff about our brand.


Now if these bloggers keep it real all the way. Keep to the same style. Stay who they are. And are rewarded... I have absolutely no qualms with that.

But it is those who act self-entitled. Arrogrant.

The ones who barge in demanding free treatments because of "who they are". Some who write posts that uncover them as "writers" who possess language skills of a gnat. Then.... WHY THE HELL ARE THEY BEING PAID TO BE BULLIES?

Have we, thanks to wanting this "freedom of speech" online - inevitably created a culture of people who all think they are stars and deserve to be rewarded for it?

Because I seem to know at least 8 people in the last two weeks who have told me that they have their own youtube channels.

Social media. Is now the new reality tv in a world where everyone wants to become a celebrity.

And all I can say is peeps...

Like a wise man once said, that now has become a famous tagline in a comic...

Just like these bloggers or social media starlets, shouldn't abuse their newfound fame like six-year-olds wielding swords, staggering under its weight and becoming the playground bully....

We have responsibilities too.

With who we read. Who we support. Who we lend credibility with our eyeballs. Or click "follow" or "like". Because at the end of the day - we are the ones who are the enablers of someone who might become famous because of potty mouthed postings if we keep reading.

We are the ones, who are handing the big, sharp sword, to the six year old who walks with a cocky swagger who we really can't stand. And handing the six-year-old his or her paycheque too.

I believe, first and foremost. That we are what we read.

So don't support trash. If you see someone who writes something stupid. Or if this person says so and so wrote a stupid post that might offend your sensibilities.

Do the right thing.

And just click away.

p.s. If there are any of you who do want recommendations for sites I really do read. And rate. Or social media influencers or bloggers who I think do deserve to get paid for what they do. Hit me up. And I'll give you my opinion.

For free.

** all my posts are written on the fly. Non-sequiter. And have not been approved of by my editor, who would probably vomit blood at the sheer length of this post. So it will have grammatical errors. It might have spelling and punctuation mistakes. So sue me. I'm not getting paid for this.

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