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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging is so yesterday, politicians turn to Twitter

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 — The political battleground is changing. Blogs, once the main source of “alternative” political news and the perfect arena to court public opinion, are giving way to Twitter.
Internet pundits here note a steady decrease in traffic for blogs while microblogging services like Twitter have seen the opposite, a phenomenon observers believe is brought about by opposition icon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II trial.  
The 62-year-old PKR de facto leader has been actively tweeting as a way to counter what has been described as the ruling coalition’s alleged attempt to demonise him through government-linked media.
“Our observations show that there has been a steady decrease in blog traffic while sites like Facebook and Twitter have seen an increase in visitors,” DAP information technology chief Goh Kheng Teong told The Malaysian Insider.
“This can be attributed to the ongoing Sodomy II trial and also the quick and mobile nature of Twitter. Blogs are usually only frequented by hardcore supporters,” said Goh, who maintains and operates DAP’s online activities.
The keywords are mobility and speed. Unlike blogs, Twitter’s emphasis on short status updates over often personal journals has made it more attractive.
A microblogging site like Twitter allows political leaders like Anwar, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang and Umno maverick Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to send short instant updates, ideas and thoughts on current affairs instead of long personal journals.
This means subscribers get “live” updates by following these leaders on Twitter. Anwar’s 5,108 Twitter followers are constantly fed with “live” updates of the trial, an element absent with blogging.
A Twitter subscriber noted this through a tweet. The subscriber by the name “badyanaril” said: “I join Twitter because I need to have live feed on Anwar Ibrahim’s case.”
A study showed 3G mobile user numbers are rising sharply. From 3 million in 1999, the numbers have skyrocketed to 28.9 million up to last year and is still growing, which makes applications like Twitter, designed specifically for mobile-phone users, the preferred option for information.
This has prompted leaders from Barisan Nasional, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who has more than 10,000 followers on Twitter, to hop on the bandwagon.
“It's a new phenomenon. Twitter subscribers can get updates on what they think, feel about a particular issue and it’s inclusive. This is something that other media like televisions and newspapers cannot do.
“It’s short, attractive and the best way for them to connect with the voters instantly,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of independent polling house Merdeka Center.
PKR communications director Jonson Chong, a “hardcore tweeter”, however, believes blogs are still relevant. Unlike Twitter, blogs give readers the chance to learn in detail what political leaders feel about current issues.
“They are two different things. They are catered for two different crowds. With Twitter, you get snippets of information but blogs give you in-depth information,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
But Chong admitted that Twitter is attracting more hits than blogs. In fact, information from Twitter will reach voters first instead of blogs which makes the microblogging service the primary arena to win public opinion, said the PKR leader.
“So we use Twitter to promote our blogs,” he said smiling.


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