Highly energized Bloggers Meetup in Karachi
CIO Pakistan and Badar Khushnood of Google Pakistan finally held a Bloggers Meetup at a time that I was available in the country and although the schedule yesterday was a crazy one (when isn’t it?), there was no way that I was going to miss it.
So off I went to Royal Rodale at 4 pm to meet up with about 40 bloggers (and some imposters/wannabe bloggers). 🙂
While we waited for the event to begin, I had a chance to chat with the bloggers who were there – some I hadn’t seen for a long while, and others whom I had never met.
Some of the bloggers were coming straight from work and so a little delay was understandable. Rabia Garib began the proceedings by explaining that the reason for the Meetup was for “active” bloggers to have a discussion on how they could support each other, how they could help increase the number of bloggers in the Pakistani blogosphere, and how they could work together to brand Pakistan positively.
iFaqeer (Sabahat Ashraf) joined the event via Skype and through the Justintv stream that Rabia had set up. Ramla, Mystakool, Haris, DjFlush and several others were linked in via Twitter etc because of the unsatisfactory quality of the audio. Awab Alvi (Teeth Maestro) and I were tweeting some of the discussion as it was going on although some of the time we got so completely into the discussion that we stopped twittering. By the way, Awab has the most disgusting Panasonic laptop you have ever seen – strange thing is that Rabia and Ammar both fell in love with it! No accounting for taste I tell you! 🙂
Anyway, back to the discussion. Each of the bloggers introduced themselves so that we could put names to faces and then the suggestions started pouring out. Some felt that bloggers needed to be more responsible about their projection of Pakistan – that they should only project what was positive. There was even a suggestion that some regulatory body should play a part.
Many of us were dead against that. Who were we to tell any blogger what he or she should, or should not, write about. It was their personal space to do with what they please. The serious bloggers exercise a sense of responsibility, ethics and balance in any case. They research a story before posting it. They do not post sensational photographs of innocent parties, especially if they are personal – Governor Salman Taseer’s families’ photos being a case in point. Wheras public figures are answerable to their constituents, their families should not be targeted. If certain bloggers use their space consistently to attack particular segments of society, or people with particular political affiliations or insinuate and spread untruths, very soon their following drops and people move on to more credible sources of information. So the filtering takes place naturally.
There are some good things about Pakistan. Why do most bloggers not write about those? Why do they only focus on the negative? Fair enough. There should be balanced content out there so those of us who feel that we know of good things that are happening in our cities and in our country, we should highlight those. Let’s put up more photos so people out there know that we do not live in caves, that although we are different, yet we are also the same.
Batool suggested that there should be more about our culture and our music. Great. Let us either put it out there ourselves or encourage people who have a specific interest in that area, to do so. Let us help them get started if technology is a barrier. The T2F blog and Danka does show some of what is happening on the cultural scene but much more of the art, fashion, literature and culture needs to be put up.
Fariha and Jamash were of the opinion that social issues needed to be highlighted not because we wanted to sensationalize them but because we need to find solutions for the ills in our society. There are problems in every society. To tackle them requires creating an awareness and coming up with answers.
Fariha, for instance, wants to start a blog/forum on which she wants to discuss women’s harrassment issues. We are not the only country with this problem. So what is the harm in talking about it and seeing what people have to say, whether it’s ways to handle yourself in such situations, or helping create gender policies that are implemented in work places or whatever. Some people may even talk about organisations that are case studies of a balanced and gender friendly work environment. Others may talk about support groups that are available.
Some of us are already highlighting the innovation in our technology industry. Whether it is the CIO Pakistan Webstudio (my ITLOW webcast being one of the elements that makes the webstudio so interesting), TechLahore, the P@SHA blog, my own blog, Desi Back to Desh, IT Tazee, Green & White, Babar Bhatti’s blog and so many others, there is good material that is available out there. Perhaps we should be cross-linking some of what is already on blogs and websites. Tea Break, Bloggers.pk and Alltop Pakistan have aggregated a lot of the blogs from Pakistan but let each of us link to our 5 or 10 favourite local blogs so that we can create a buzz.
All Things Pakistan already exists (where there are both the positive and the negative about developments in Pakistan), Abid Beli said he had already started a blog to present the Pakistan perspective, but was still in the process of creating more traction for it. Badar Khushnood pointed us in the direction of a blog called “Alive and Well in Pakistan”. This is what the site owners say about their effort:
Fawad Butt and Ethan Casey provide independent reporting from and about Pakistan, humanizing Pakistanis for a global audience and giving Pakistanis worldwide an honest, sympathetic portrayal of their situation in the contemporary world that goes beyond the headlines and cliches, in film, print and other media such as short videos, still photography, and audio.
There were a lot of concerns about the ethics or lack of them. Awab said there was no reason to reinvent the wheel and pointed us in the direction of the Electronic Frontier Foundation which has information on bloggers rights and responsibilities. Some of this may not be relevant because of our unique laws. Maybe the thing to do is become aware of what is acceptable globally and then, if necessary, start advocacy for the same rights and protection that is available to bloggers elsewhere.
Action items that were agreed to included:
1. Farzal Dojki will come up with a list of “talking points” about the positive thinks that are happening in Pakistan.
2. Usman Sheikh will put up a wiki where everyone will add on their resolutions and resources.
3. Taking more photos of people, flowers, scenery, animals, culture and putting it on Flickr.
4. Tagging everything that we post so that it is available in search engines.
5. Finding something positve to write about every week.
6. Creating a brand that could be used for viral marketing
7. When an inaccurate and negative story about Pakistan appears anywhere, doing our research and commenting on it so that the truth is out there.
8. Two of the bloggers committed to adding 500 bloggers each to the Pakistan blogosphere – Ammar Yasir was one of them. I can’t remember who the other one was. Good luck. I hope your powers of persuasion are good.
There was a suggestion that perhaps people who did not have an education and were not literate would not be able to contribute to the blogosphere. Nothing could be further from the truth. Podcasting allows them to have a voice, to express their opinions and to share the wealth of indigenous knowledge that they possess.
Oh by the way I must tell you this. We had a dreamer in our midst – none other than Salaina Haroon of CIO Pakistan. Her suggestion was that all political parties in Pakistan should set up a joint PR wing that could brand Pakistan. Errr Salaina, what are you on? Surely not just Red Bull! 😉
Anthony Mitchell who has been following our tech industry for several years has sent these suggestions:
Reporters, bloggers, and other public figures in the West and India could be tracked and contacted to help them create more and better content about Pakistan and its people. The results could be maintained and updated on a closed website that would function along the lines of what an export-oriented business would set up for its sales force to track clients and potential clients.
A civilian defense customer-relations-management (CRM) system would maintain contact information of outside parties, record interactions with PK bloggers, and contain notes on interest areas and the types of information that could be pushed out to outside parties—with their permission (annually renewed).
Outreach work could be divided up to limit the time demands on bloggers in Pakistan, provide continuity, and build bridges between people with similar interests. For example, offroaders in Pakistan could reach out to editors of offroad magazines and offroad-oriented websites in the U.S. and offer to provide photos, content and other information that would show American readers some of the beauty of Pakistan. These exchanges would draw more readers to blogsites in Pakistan.
Technology for video conferencing provides exciting opportunities for a virtual speakers’ bureau. Bloggers from Pakistan can use video links to engage in discussions with civic groups in other countries. Civic groups can include rotary clubs, churches, political parties (of all persuasions), world affairs clubs and youth groups.
Pakistan’s prominence in the news gives it a ‘hipness’ that can be used to its benefit. Through video links, students at all levels could make presentations to classes in the West and India, learning communication and leadership skills and providing a sense of relevance that is not always present in routine academic assignments.
Perhaps this post has become a bit lengthy :). And I still haven’t said everything I had to say. Oh well! Let me close by saying that discourse such as this is much needed. We may not always agree with each other but let us give each other the right to have a viewpoint. Let us increase the size of the Pakistani blogging community so that we have a voice but let us do so with a sense of responsibility and integrity.
Credits: I have used some photos taken in this post that were taken by Batool.