Thu, 25 Mar 2010


By Stephen Kaufman
Indonesia’s online population grows 49 percent annually

As more Indonesians come online, the communications influence of the world’s fourth-largest population increasingly will be felt.

Washington - Indonesia is “on the brink of a major electronic revolution,” says one of the country’s first bloggers, Enda Nasution. Boasting the fourth-largest population in the world, the relatively small percentage of Indonesian Internet users are seeing their numbers grow thanks to improved access to the Internet, including through affordable cell phone technology.

According to data collected in September 2009 by Internet World Stats, “only” 30 million Indonesians are online. The figure represents 12.5 percent of the country’s estimated population of 241 million. But it is already enough to make Indonesia the country with the 13th highest online presence. Combined with the country’s relative tolerance for a free media, it is expected that Indonesia’s growing online presence will be strongly felt in the coming years.

Nasution told that the relatively small penetration of Internet use in his country “bothers me a lot,” but according to his analysis, Indonesia’s online population grows 49 percent annually, and has grown more than “1,000 percent in the last nine years.”

“The changes are already happening,” he said, with greater distribution of computer hardware, software and Internet access. In addition, almost all new cell phones, even those costing less than $100, boast online connection capability. “So I believe we are on the brink of major electronic revolution,” he said.

Nasution has been described as the “father of the Indonesian blogosphere,” because his online presence since 2001 not only places him in the first generation of Indonesian bloggers, but he has dedicated much of his activity to explaining the art of blogging to his countrymen and encouraging newcomers.

“Indonesian bloggers are mostly community driven,” he said. “There are some exceptions but mostly that’s the common norm.” Smaller blogging communities exist in the cities and in provinces, and they are “essential” for newcomers who seek both technical and moral support.

“Most Indonesians are shy to come to a meet-up alone, and the younger ones still need encouraging and fostering their self confidence,” he said. And there is the question of audience. That’s the “number one question new bloggers usually ask,” he said. “Who’s going to read my blog?”

The community-centered style of Indonesian blogging manifests itself in annual national gatherings such as Pesta Blogger, and its less formal alternative Muktamar Blogger. Both build relationships among bloggers as they share knowledge and tips, and encourage greater unity in the developing media.

According to academic research published in 2009 by Nadine Freischlad (PDF, 1.9MB), Indonesia’s blogosphere is also partly characterized by memories of censorship and media manipulation that occurred during the Soeharto era, which lasted nearly three decades before the former president’s rule was ended in 1998.

Internet technology arrived in the mid- to late 1990s, precisely when opposition to Soeharto was growing, and cyberspace became a rare platform for free expression and interaction, as well as a major source of news and information that was free from state control or censorship.

“The Internet was used by the students’ movement to coordinate itself and to mobilize the masses,” Freischlad writes. “Activists transformed information obtained from the Internet into printed flyers and distributed them on the streets.”

In the post-Soeharto era, Indonesia’s government has ended censorship and encouraged Internet use among its citizens. Freischlad points out that many Indonesians continue to regard the World Wide Web as a “free space” outside the control of the state, and public facilities like Internet cafes and Warnet (Warung Internet) kiosks remain popular and have developed their own unique culture among Indonesian youth in the absence of widespread personal ownership of computers.

“The role of the Warnet as a free space’ outside the regulative power of state, economy and social/moral repression can only be fully grasped when looking back at the circumstances that made it so important for Indonesian youngsters and Indonesian society in general to have such a space,” Freischlad writes.