When Diana Rikasari asked a friend to sign her up on Blogger.com in 1997, little did she know that she would end up doing a fashion blog. “At first, I wanted my blog to be a good place for people to visit, most likely as they sipped a cup of hot chocolate,” she said of her blog, Hot Chocolate and Mint.
Diana’s blog, which can be found at http://dianarikasari.blogspot.com, has catapulted her to fashionista fame.
Since Oct. 14, Hot Chocolate and Mint has been ranked No. 1 on the list of Top 100 Blogs as compiled by Indonesia Matters, a Web site on all things Indonesian.
She has overtaken such well-known bloggers as Ndoro Kakung, Wimar Witoelar and Raditya Dika, based on a set of parameters that include traffic, back tweets and social bookmarks.
Her blog has opened a window of opportunity. “At first, I did not even realize that I had an interest in fashion,” she said.
The success of the blog, and Diana’s unique fashion sense, a mix of flea market finds and high-end brands, has led to collaborations with independent shoe company Wondershoe and retail company Bloop/Endorse.
Diana is only one of the approximately 3.2 million bloggers in Indonesia.
That estimate is based on statistics compiled from traditional blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress, as well as Indonesian sites Dagdigdug and Blog Detik.
Last year the number of estimated bloggers was just one million, so the growth has been explosive.
And companies are sitting up and taking notice, and have started using bloggers as an alternative to the mainstream media to promote their brands.
For example, a recent event in Jakarta for the launch of Google Maps Indonesia featured two different presentations, one for media members in the afternoon and another for bloggers in the evening.
A shampoo brand and a chocolate product have done similar things as part of their promotional campaigns.
“This has actually started since last year, but it has grown this year,” said Enda Nasution, who has been blogging for more than a decade. He points out, however, that advertising agencies know little about blogger culture.
“They often treat bloggers like journalists,” said Enda, who is often referred to as the father of blogging in Indonesia.
He said that during promotional events, ad agencies often glossed over the points of their products, forgetting that bloggers seek more details that may not be relevant to the mainstream media.
“It would be great if [the agencies] could do a sharing session to expand their networks because bloggers are not just writers who publish their thoughts. They are end-users as well,” he said.
The official rise of the blogging class can be traced back to three years ago when Mohammad Nuh, who was then the minister of communication and information technology, declared Oct. 27 to be National Blogger Day.
At the same time, bloggers, in cooperation with the US Embassy, organized the first annual Pesta Blogger.
This year, the main event for Pesta Blogger will be held in Jakarta this weekend, after a series of pre-events in Surabaya, Makassar, Aceh, Pontianak, Banjarmasin, Madura and Yogyakarta.
“As of today, we have 1,310 bloggers who have registered for the event, excluding those who are going to come for Pesta Blogger++ this weekend,” said Snezana Brodjonegoro from Maverick, the public relations firm that is organizing the event.
She said the plus signs symbolized new media platforms, such as micro-blogging site Twitter and location-based social networking tool Koprol, an Indonesian dot-com that was acquired by Yahoo this year.
Snezana, who traveled to Yogyakarta and Pontianak for the Pesta Blogger pre-events, said one of the most frequently asked questions at the workshops revolved around the value of blogging.
The question of ethics and whether one can actually make a living from blogging were also issues that came up.
Where ethics is concerned, unlike journalists, whose governing principles are more clear-cut, bloggers still face an extremely gray area, especially in Indonesia.
Diana thinks that honesty is an important aspect in blogging and she is always up front in her posts about the gifts she receives from fashion brands.
“I usually tell my readers if I get something as a gift,” she said. “I think that’s why people like blogs because they want honest opinions and sometimes you can’t get it in the media.”
She does not think that blogging can become her main source of income.
Although she recently quit her job to pursue her fashion dream, she still treats her blog as a side project while preparing her own shoe line.
Enda has found himself in the same boat regarding monetizing his blog.
While he believes it is possible for bloggers to earn their main source of income from their blogs, this possibility hinges on many factors.
“I earn $50 to $100 a month from my blog,” he said. “But that’s nothing. I get more from talks, consulting jobs and taking care of my clients’ blogs, so my blog is like a side project.”
Enda said that when you start talking about trying to make money from a blog, a host of ethical issues come up.
The first has to do with who you attract. “Often, when you talk about monetizing your blog, you attract the wrong crowd,” he said.
Those who want to get the hits without doing the work often do so by using pornographic content, even plagiarizing other Web sites.
Enda said this was the opposite of what blogging was supposed to be about, which was to express oneself and share information.
“Blogging is an experiment to create a personal media,” he said. “It is where we express our views of the world and let everyone see us.”
In terms of paid blogging, Enda he that it shouldn’t be a problem as long as the writer is honest. A disclaimer is needed whenever an author writes about a client or a product. “
If readers think the blogger puts up too much sponsored content, people will eventually feel it. If they don’t like it, they will leave the blog,” he said.
Enda suggested that bloggers strike a balance between original and sponsored blog posts. “I think, when you only have 10 or 15 percent of paid blog posts, it’s fine,” he said.
Maverick’s Ong Hok Chuan said that those who have influence online should be selective in choosing which products to endorse.
“They have every right to make good money for being able to build up huge followings.
“But they have to be careful about maintaining and nurturing their personal brand equity as, say, a film star or a sports star would their reputations when endorsing products,” he said.
But in the end it is always the ever-fickle public that remains the ultimate judge.
Remember, there may be more than three million blogs from Indonesia, but in the end, only a few are popular.