THARUM BUN, 32, BLOGGER
Tharum Bun, 32, is an experienced voice in the Cambodian blogosphere and digital media space. Blogging since 2004, he’s been a contributing writer for the Phnom Penh Post, Asian Correspondents, The United Nations’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) and Global Voices online. He has worked as a digital media strategist for the Voice of America (VOA Khmer Service) where he designed and implemented online strategies to reach out to Cambodian youth.
Tharum co-organized BlogFest Asia in 2012 and founded BarCamp in 2008, the first technology conference in Phnom Penh. He is on the board of Mekong ICT Camp, BarCamp Cambodia and Open Development Cambodia. In 2009, he was awarded a Leadership in Journalism Scholarship from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Tharum was also recently selected to participate in the 2014 U.S. State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), on the category of “Media Literacy: Promoting Civil Society through New Media.”
Born in Kandal Province in 1982, Tharum went to Beng Trabek High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a major in Marketing at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh. He has spent his entire career in media as well as Information and Communications Technology (ICT). I interviewed Tharum to get a better understanding of the intersections of social media and technology in Cambodia, how open development can help Cambodia and the future of digital media in Cambodia.
Q. What was it like growing up in Cambodia? What were some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to be where you are today?
A. I was born a few years after the war was almost over. My parents moved from my hometown to Phnom Penh since I was a little boy. We settled in the city since then. I’m fascinated by changes in my neighborhoods, childhood friends, the city, and my schools. As my parents had to raise seven children, including me as the second oldest, I realized that I have to be much more on my own. Back then I could manage to as a volunteer and a part-timer to support my study. This self-independence is an integral part of me. I value being a self-made man.
Q. Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?
A. My parents. They struggled for some years, but they kept moving on. From time to time, my father told his children about learning and acquiring skills. My mother worked very hard back then. She’s very devoted to raise us. I feel that their warmest love makes me a stronger human.
Q. Which leaders have influenced your views the most on how technology can be used for citizen empowerment for participatory development?
A. I read one of Bill Gates’s books, The Road Ahead, in the early 2000s. It’s when I became very fascinated by personal computers. It’s also when I started to develop my faculty of wonder and keep learning and discovering. I think information and knowledge are an essential power for Cambodian people before we can think of participatory development. The machines make things easier and fun. It’s one of the stages to empower citizens.
Q. In 2004 you were one of the first bloggers in Cambodia. How has the social/digital media environment changed in Cambodia since you started blogging?
A. The Internet helps open up this country. So little discussions among the nation’s intellectuals, not to mention ordinary citizens, you can find on the net. Blogging is the first step to revolutionize the way we’re willing to discuss, share our thoughts, and start our dialogues. I started blogging in 2004. Only a handful of bloggers here in Cambodia and abroad began blogging about their personal lives and some views on social issues. Blogging workshops, Clogger (Cambodia bloggers) summit in 2007, and media attention were crucial to popularize Cambodia’s blogosphere and its community, years before Facebook’s presence. The number of bloggers is growing slowly right now, but what’s important is they’re getting to more critical. A really good example is: CAN’T STAND (views from a female Cambodian). You can locate it here: http://cannotstand.wordpress.com. One of her latest blog posts is about her views of Cambodian politics. It’s an excellent blog post. The last decade means people get familiar with the tools. Today I expect to see great discussions and debates that contribute to Cambodia’s political and social development.
Q. What are some challenges and opportunities for Cambodia as it embarks upon the digital media age?
A. As we have seen in the recent years, last year in particular, positive changes have taken place here. Cambodia’s young generation embrace technologies; they’re eager to be connected and engaged. Digital media, a new form of traditional media, is a platform to deliver news and information to citizens.
With more information from a variety of sources, they will be much better informed. I’d rather see it as an added-value than a challenge. One of the opportunities now is that we have a greater communication tool to exchange information; a tool that people are so excited about. Digital media is not a catalyst of what brings changes. But it can help kindle people’s interest in social issues and politics again.
Q. Why is open development important to Cambodia’s future and what will it take to get there? How can technology and social media be used to have more of an inclusive environment for development?
A. Being informed Cambodians, they demand more than less. Social accountability and good governance are the fundamental part of building a modern Cambodia. The technological tool and platform make it easy for the government, research institutions, think tanks, and the private sector to share and collaborate. But as important as this sophisticated technology itself is human collaboration before we can realize that the essence of open data, which leads to a more dynamic development.
Q. In March 2013 Cambodia saw a 60% rise in Internet usage which amounted to 2.7 million users. While this is good news, out of a population of close to 15 million, many are still without access to the Internet. What (if any) consequences does this have on Cambodia’s development?
A. I’m sure that this remains good news for now and several more years to come. The trend of the growing Internet penetration is just unstoppable. Another good news is that people no longer really need a computer to access to the Internet. Back in the early 2000s, electricity, expensive hardware, and lack of infrastructure were among the issues to tackle. But we now face a new phenomenon. An article by Colin Meyn on Southeastern Globe magazine says that, “it’s estimated that there are 19 million mobile phones in Cambodia – 1.3 phones for each of the country’s 15 million people – and an increasing percentage of them connect people not only to their friends and family, but also to the worldwide web.” The author also opined that “Currently, more than two million Cambodians are connected to the Internet and, unless the government decides to do something to stop it, that number will increase exponentially in coming years.”
The past decade was painfully slow in term of getting people connected to the Internet. But we’ve seen a new record of growth of net users in the past few years. With businesses’ interest and people’s demand, this means we’ll see this trend will continue. So I see this a positive aspect and hopefully leads to positive impact.
Q. Twitter and Facebook are popular social media platforms in Cambodia, especially among the youth. In your opinion, what is the next big thing in technology as it pertains to the ICT/digital media world in Cambodia?
A. I think mobile devices will dominate the way we express ourselves and how we access content. The next big thing is the giant Google+. Google’s own social networking site is late into the game, but its dominance in both online and smart phone ecosystem tie the users well. Its strategic reach through budget smart phones fit so well for those larger popularity of Cambodians who are not yet wired.
Q. Over 70 percent of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 35 and many of them are active users of social media. You’ve designed strategies to reach out to youth. What are some tips you may have if one wanted to reach out to this demographic online?
A. I’m glad I started early when seeing a potential opportunity. It needs the investment of time and resource. But as a multi-skilled person, I could manage to do more with less. I think it’s first to understand the group of audience that you want to target, their need, and what we’re really good at as a content producer to respond to that. For instance, the young audience now craves what’s happening right now. This means that a news organization needs do much more. Journalists have to learn new skills, including gathering first hand information through crowd-sourcing and social media sites. They need to learn to vet and verify online materials, while they also understand about the importance of immediacy and the life cycle of news.
As my job was to focus more on online audience, Cambodian youth is my prime target. Young Cambodians are excited about getting connected, social media, and mobile technologies. This demographic, if we fail to reach out to them, we’ll miss a great opportunity for they’re not interested in traditional radio broadcast, the way that the older groups are. Thus, news programs have been tailored to educate, entertain, and inspire this new, growing group of audiences. The online platforms also make it easy for them to have their voices heard, even crossing the platform. For instance, an important question on Facebook gets a mention on radio broadcast to the nation-wide audiences.
Q. Where do you hope the future of ICT/digital media will be in 10 years time in Cambodia?
A. For the past 10 years in Cambodia, it was about building infrastructure, introducing and evangelizing technologies to the people, the next step is utilizing content. To describe how content matters much more, Bolivian writer and communication specialist Alfonso Gumucio Dagron puts it nicely that “when we talk about technology we are only referring to instruments, not to social, economic or cultural development. A knife is just a knife; it can be used to hurt someone or to carve a beautiful wood sculpture. Content and utilization is what makes the difference.”
Q. You’ve been able to build a successful career at a young age. What advice would you have for young people who may be struggling but want to follow a similar path?
A. To know what we’re really good at. If not, find it. To know who the person we are and what we want to do personally and professionally. It’s very depressing when we struggle, but it can be a lifetime lesson to realize how vulnerable we are as human beings. When we realize this, we can be better.
Read Tharum’s blog at: https://tharum.com/blog/
This is an email interview I gave to a Cambodian university student.
1. Could you please tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m a founder of KokiTree, a Phnom Penh-based content marketing agency. A technology blogger since 2004, I’ve been also a journalist, digital strategist, and communicator. My work has also appeared in a variety of publications, including The Huffington Post, The Phnom Penh Post, Global Voices Online, The Asian Correspondent, Tech In Asia, ICTWorks, Voices of America, IRIN News, Red Herring, and more.
2. Do you blog and when did you start blogging? What are the specific **perspective that you would raise to discuss or express in your blog?**
I’ve been blogging since 2004. I write about technology and media. I’ve been interested in the intersection of these two fields, the impact of the Internet on society and individuals. I also write about life in Cambodia.
3. Why do you start blogging?
I enjoy writing and expressing my thoughts. I first learned how to setup a personal home page (website) in the early 2000s. In 2014, I discovered this blogging platform and started adopting blogging since then.
4. Is blogging still popular in Cambodia? Are there more or less blogs
now then there were in the previous years?
In Cambodia, blogging was popular before Facebook and Twitter. While blogging isn’t so much trendy these, its core is here that we express and consume everyday.
5. What do you think about the fresh young blogger in Cambodia?
A new generation of bloggers in Cambodia is better equipped with technologies and tools than ever before. It’s easy to do live blogging from their smartphone. These young bloggers can network and form groups to niche and lifestyle content. They’re talented and savvy.
6. Lastly, what’s else do you want to tell me more?
Blogging in Cambodia will continue to evolve. The platform and technology are here. The ideas and expressions will be more interesting over time. I look forward to read rational conversations that matter to them.
My Interview with Cambodian College Students
Students of Pannasastra University of Cambodia, Rana Sowath, Ek Sreypechrachna, Sok Someaknea, Ang Vanny, and Morm Linda, facilitated by Professor Ron Klein, interviewed me for their research project in mid-August. The ‘Mass of Communication’ report was written for Fundamentals of Communication course. It gives an overview of the roles of traditional media and the new media.
A section of the report:
The Blogging Revolution
“Weblogs Are To Words What Napster Was To Music” – Andrew Sullivan
In 1994, the phenomenon now called Blogging had begun. Blogging allows people to post their questions or give answers, share ideas and produce arguments, and giving comments about certain things. (Sullivan, The Blogging Revolution, the Internet)
Blogs are widely used because blogs are personal and pleasing to people. Blogging has been used everywhere around the world. And Cambodia is also one of the nations that use blogging. Bun Tharum, although not 100 percent sure, is believed to be the first man to create a blogging website on the Internet in Cambodia. On his web page, you can post information, personal questions, and get a response from others very easily.
Mr. Bun Tharum’s Interview
Having logged on to Mr. Tharum’s website, we are very interested in the Blogging issue. Therefore, we have conducted an interview with him via e-mail and received some answers which we believe are very crucial to our report. To acknowledge this significant achievement and his vital help, we would like to thank Mr. Tharum very much for spending some of his time trying to answer all our questions. Below is our interview with him.
- When did you start using the Internet?
In early 1999.
- Do you know a lot about the Internet?
I think there are so many things to learn about the Internet, and more to come to discover.
- When and why did blogging become popular around the world?
The first weblog was created in 1997. And weblogs took off in recent years, probably in 2003. It may be it is easy to create, update, and maintain than a static website. So, even novice can become a blog owner in just a few minutes. People have different views and different personalities, and blog is designed to suit them all. It is for everyone.
- Can you define blogging in a simple way?
It is a personal publishing tool and a two-way communication tool. You can imagine when you go to café, to listen to other people talking; raving and ranting, and you can have your opinions.
- Why did you want to have a blogging website in Cambodia?
In a way, it is not expensive to reach out to people around the world. Several years ago I visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I asked a foreign traveler about Cambodia. He talked about landmines and rebels. And I realized that blog is a means to make my home country known to the outside world. I have collected many Cambodia websites, categorized them, and continuously added more.
- What are some main benefits of blogging?: Especially for Cambodian citizens?
In every walk of life, people live to express themselves. People love reading newspapers, listening to radio, and watching TV. They are all informed. But they cannot find a good way to react or comment. Blogging allows people to interact with others from diverse cultures
in different countries. It is an open world where people can learn views and thoughts of others on any topics they like. And in my point of view, apart from making our nation known internationally, we can even learn much more from individuals and communities all over the
- How many people have become bloggers in Cambodia since its existence?
It is very tough to tell about the number of Cambodian bloggers. I assume there are some hundreds.
- What do people usually discuss about on the blogging website?
A blog can be about anything people want it to be. In the United States and in some countries in Europe, it is another source of media to find out how their citizens discuss voting. In China, it is probably the only tool being used to react to the government. Since it is citizen’s voice, in some countries, interestingly journalists read the blog to find angles to write articles. Cambodian people, as have been written in tourist guide book, a country of friendly people, can write a blog to inform foreign tourists about their beautiful country.
- Is politics usually the main discussion? : Or are there some other main issues as well, such as economics, education, etc.?
Not at all, as I previously said. There are so many topics. But I am not quite sure that politics and technology have been listed as top ten. Most people have their own interests, so they write and discuss what they love to. A blog is somewhat making people with similar interest meet each other on the net and share their experience. I like reading blogs about technology.
- If people have any questions and post it on the blogging web page, do they get satisfying results?
It took about half year or so to expose my blog. Once visitors are familiar with the context of my weblog, they provide plenty of helpful opinions. Not all the time I have to expect good comments as I have been prepared to be open to learning different opinions.
- How do you think Blogging will revolutionize the world, particularly in Cambodia?
It is not very easy to foresee the future. Technologies, for years, have been designed to empower life of all ages. It is just a matter that we deploy them in an appropriate way. I like a quote of Alfonso Gumucio Dagron that says: “When we talk about technology, we are
only referring to instruments, not to social economic or cultural development. A knife is just a knife: it can be used to hurt someone or to carve beautiful wood sculpture. Content and utilization are what makes the difference.”
- Are you in contact with other bloggers in Cambodia?
Why not? I communicate with some Cambodia bloggers, both Cambodian people in the country and abroad, and foreigners who write about Cambodia.
- What is your ultimate goal for the future?
I hope to work in media, specifically in information and communications. And part of my career is to be a writer.
- Have you got more daily ”hits” since the Cambodia Daily article?
Time after time Internet users google my name.
- Do you believe that political websites could foster dialogue to improve human rights and democracy in Cambodia?
It is just a communication tool. Human beings invent, create, but sometimes do not use it. In developed countries, it is very popular, and being used to empower their critical thinking and better communications.
A photo opp the diplomat blogger William (Bill) E. Todd
With William (Bill) E. Todd the diplomat blogger in Phnom Penh
A group photo of Voice of America (Khmer service) colleagues with William Todd, the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia
The U.S. Ambassador and I share two things in common: we both are blogger; we sip hot Americano.
Date: February 27, 2013
First published on Banyan Blog: