One of the first thing Bektour Iskender, co-founder of Kyrgyz blogging community Kloop.kg, said when we met was, “I read your book.” That surprised me, as I haven’t written any books. But then I realized he was talking about a guide I’d written about anonymous blogging. He went on: “I was translating that guide at the same time as David Sasaki’s book on citizen media, so the two of you tend to blur in my head.” As we talked about how Bektour got interested in citizen media, he mentioned a transformative trip he’d taken to Prague to study with Evgeny Morozov at Transitions Online.
As we sat in Porter Exchange in Cambridge yesterday, I realized I was having dinner with the next generation. Friends like Evgeny, David and I have been working since 2004 to ensure that citizen media is a revolution that doesn’t just include North Americans and Western Europeans. Here, slurping noodle soup with me, was a blogger trained by my generation of bloggers, who’d read the guides we’d put out into the world and now busily cultivating another generation of bloggers.
What made it especially cool was discovering just how impressive Kloop’s success has been so far. In a country where internet access is expensive and doesn’t extend far outside the capital, Bishkek, Kloop now hosts more than 1100 blogs on an installation of WordPress MU. Kloop provides these blogs for free, and they’re “freer” than blogs provided by LiveJournal or other international blogging platforms, as Kyrgyz bandwidth is so expensive that cybercafes and ISPs charge more for accessing international sites than local ones. Kloop also maintains a citizen media portal, an edited news site that draws on contributions from Kloop bloggers. That site has become increasingly important in the Kyrgyz media space – Bektour tells me that Kloop reporters wrote many of the most linked stories on a Kazakstan block of Livejournal last year.
Kloop is developing a track record for training young journalists in what Bektour refers to as “the Anglo-American model of journalism”, a style that focuses on facts rather than opinions. (I think this must be the dying Anglo-American model, perhaps killed off by Jan Moir, but Bektour reassures me that there’s a lot to be said for “just the facts, ma’am” in countries where Soviet propoganda shaped many journalists’ conception of themselves.) An early success story is Timur Toktonaliyev, a sixteen year old reporter who’s been credentialled to report on Parliament, and who now is a paid freelancer for an international news agency.
The long-term plan for Kloop is to achieve sustainability by teaching classes in journalism and new media. Bektour outlines a curiculum for me that involves classes that will help NGOs use social media, as well as training bloggers and journalists in media ethics, and offering workshops on basic programming for social media users (customizing stylesheets, installing WordPress, etc.) Tutors for these workshops will likely come from outside Kyrgyzstan initially, but over time, the goal is to train a set of social media experts who can help spread social media through the region. It makes sense for Kyrgystan to act as a hub for social media as the media climate is more free in Kyrgyzstan than in any of the other Central Asian nations.
The idea of Kyrgyz bloggers supporting their bretheren in Uzbekistan isn’t as strange as it might sound. Bektour tells me that much of the success Kloop has had so far has come from the broader community of former Soviet states. Bektour was one of the organizers of a BarCamp in Riga, Latvia last February. Much of the technical support for Kloop comes from people he met at the BarCamp, and Bektour points to collaborations happening between bloggers in Central Asia and the Baltics.
Most of Kloop’s blogs are in Russian, but the Chess photoblog, maintained by a filmmaker, is a nice introduction to those of us who don’t read the language. A 2007 interview with Bektour on Global Voices, conducted by Ben Paarman, gives a sense for how far the project has come in a short time.
An interview with Bektour by Chris Schuepp of Young People’s Media Network.