An interesting article on the history and culture of blogging in Vietnam from AsiaLife magazine.
The Birth, Death and Revival of Vietnam’s Blogging Culture
A brief history of the curious lifespan and rebirth of Vietnamese blogs.
By Chi Huyen Mai
Source: AsiaLife Issue 27
Once upon a time, five or six years ago, a neologism introduced a whole new way of
life to Vietnamese who were embracing the cyber world. That word was “blog.” “For the first time, my opinions counted, and I was listened to,” recalls Tu Nguyen, a 20-year-old blogger. For many like Tu, blogging presented the chance to voice one’s mind and heart in a culture that traditionally approves of communal consensusand disapproves of individual expression. Blogging was a new sort of freedom.
From behind their keyboards, bloggers could reflect on life, their peers, fashion, music, pets—anything that interested them. That freedom extended to social, economic and even political subjects, which had hardly ever been discussed on any public platform before the arrival of blogs. Trung Tran was in his early twenties when the blogosphere exploded. “It was the only space where I could speak my thoughts at length about my generation, society and all that surrounded me,” says Tran. “It was a whole new horizon in which one had a chance to parade her personality,” says Van Nguyen, who would become a blogger for Asia Scout Network, a research initiative that monitors emerging youth culture within Asia-Pacific.
As blogging grew in popularity, the world beyond the computer screen took notice. Starting from a personal wish to express themselves, some bloggers rose above the crowd, making up a trendsetting group that Vietnamese media at the time dubbed “The Hot Bloggers.” “Hot Bloggers are those who had a strong personality. That’s the numero uno standard,” says Robbey Le, a well-known, long-time blogger. Robbey has been blogging since 2006. He writes about pop culture, from music to movies to the world of celebrities, “with no attempts to stir up faux scandals,” he says, referring to the many Vietnamese blog pages that attract enormous traffic by posting gossip, eyebrow-raising news and plenty of chest shots.
Many other bloggers also rose above the lowest common denominator. At its peak, Vietnam’s blogosphere saw the rise of Co Gai Do Long, a journalist by trade who reported behind-the-scenes stories of celebrities. It also witnessed the increasing fame of Bo Cu Hung, a reporter who offered insights into more serious topics such as politics and journalistic practices. Then there was Cuong Oz with independent multi-series research and features on the underground youth culture of alcohol and drugs. The list goes on.
Much of the boom was built on Yahoo 360, a social networking and blogging platform that was the first to enter the Vietnamese market. But while Yahoo 360 caught on in Vietnam, it was radically eclipsed in the rest of the world by other services such as MySpace and Facebook. By July 2009, Yahoo decided to close the service. It was little noticed elsewhere, but the decision had a dramatic impact on the blogging community in Vietnam. The death of Yahoo 360 spawned the annihilation of millions of online journals and a scattered exodus to a plethora of other sites, from WordPress, Multiply, my.opera, Tumblr, Blogspot and Yahoo Plus (successor of Yahoo 360) to locally-supplied Zing, Yume, tamtay and others.
In 2009, the number of Internet users visiting blogs dropped from 46 to 41 percent, and blog writers declined from 27 to 20 percent, according to market research agency Cimigo. Some bloggers continued. Robbey Le, Co Gai Do Long and others have survived and retained their loyal fans, but other pop culture bloggers either completely gave up or slowed down after moving to other hosting sites. “There was no point to invest feelings and thoughts in prose just to see everything suddenly vanish one day,” says Trang Tran. “
Things’ve changed so much. There is no concentration of blogging culture anymore,” says Joe Ruelle, the most acclaimed—and only—Western blogging star in Vietnam. Joe, known by Vietnamese people as “Dau Tay” (a pun on his name that translates to “Western Berry”), became a phenomenon through his blog, which was written in uncannily fluent Vietnamese with adept observations about Vietnam’s life and culture. “It’s natural,” he says about the fall of the Yahoo 360 blogging community. “Vietnam is very receptive to fads. Everything can quickly come into fashion and quickly fade away.” From Robbey Le’s viewpoint as one of the most talked-about blogging stars, “Vietnam’s online world still lacks strong personalities. Even in commenting, people fear backlash unless they keep their real identity in the closet and stay behind a mask.”
Despite the fall of Yahoo 360, the online world has continued to evolve. In the present online world of Vietnam, sex and scandals are flooding popular websites. Quachdaica.info, a notorious site overflowing with sexual clips, provocative photos and scandals has become a model for other blogs and amateur entertainment sites. Contagious online “journals” of “hot boys” and “hot girls” (the words, remaining in English, were invented by Vietnam’s online community) are passed along via whispers and mischievous winks, primarily among younger cyber citizens.
On a lower key, the literary, social and political enthusiasts gather in esoteric sites of their own. Online literature has been an emerging trend; Trang Ha and some other writer-bloggers initiated a website vanhocmang.net (online literature) as a new cyber turf for more serious writers. Teenagers have also joined the party and concocted a communication style for themselves. Translating the incomprehensible passages on her friends’ blogs, my 18-year old sister explains: “We now write ‘p’ for ‘b’, ‘j’ for ‘i’, ‘w’ for ‘qu’ and ‘k’ for ‘c.’” Thought it looks like code, there’s no discernible function; the substitutions are simply in fashion.
For some, blogging has turned into opportunities in other media. Joe’s online fame led him into a career as TV show host and film star, as well as the publication of his blog entries as a book. Recently he again picked up the craft as a blogger for Dan Tri, a respected local news website. Other bloggers have also ventured beyond the cyberworld. Ha Kin signed a book deal for New York Love Story, a compilation of her blog entries under the same title. And Trang Ha, who at first translated a Chinese fiction translated as “Sorry you are just a slut” on her blog, later signed a book deal which was followed by a stage adaptation offer in 2010.
Still, the heyday of the blogging craze is over, perhaps never to return. “It used to be a communal, eclectic house where I could learn from different blog pages. Somewhat like an information buffet,” says Trang Pham, a PR executive. “Now I don’t know where I can find the prose to my taste. I have no clue where my favorite bloggers have gone. It’s all a big muddle.