Across Globe, Blogging Brings Change

In the 40 years since the birth of the Internet on Oct. 29, 1969, the Web has transformed how we live our lives. It has also spawned a new class of celebrity: the blogger. Three bloggers — one in London, one in Shanghai, China, and one in Mumbai, India — share their stories. Philip Reeves Louisa Lim, Vickie Barker

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

This week, we're marking the 40th anniversary of the Internet. And today there's big news for people who surf the Web in other parts of the world. ICANN, the organization that oversees Internet domain names has finally approved the use of non-Latin characters in Web addresses. That means that people who speak Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi can name Web sites in their own languages. Today's decision was almost a decade in the making and it's another example of the global reach of the Internet.

As part of our series The Net at 40, we are profiling three international stars of the Web, three bloggers. In a moment we'll go to London and Shanghai. First, though, to Mumbai.

Ms. MEENAKSHI REDDY MADHAVAN (Creator, "Compulsive Confessor"): My name is Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, and I live in Bombay, also known as Mumbai in India. And I've been blogging for the last five years. I would say on average I get about 1,000 visitors a day. I've got about nearly one and a half million readers in the last five years.

It's called the "Compulsive Confessor." I was having conversation with my mother one day, and she was, like, you know what your problem is? You're a compulsive confessor. And I was, like, oh my god, that is a perfect name for my new blog.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Ms. MADHAVAN: Bombay is a brilliant city, but only if you're a young person. Almost all my friends are people like me whove migrated from other cities to live here, to work here, you know. We go out together. We have a core group that meets almost every night. It's people in the same boat getting together. And people are really friendly.

What I do is I write the way I talk. So, sometimes if Im really angry, the F-word or something would slip out. So, when Im talking I try to talk as naturally as I can. I dont resort to hiding what Im saying under any kind of layers of language.

I dont know whether you'd call the subjects I write about controversial. I do write a lot about injustices that I feel like are happening. I write about if I read a news item that particularly gets me, Ill talk about that, but not in great detail.

I do write about sex, yes. My boyfriend did get a little upset about the blog. But then he read it and then he was, like, okay, you know, it's not like you're saying thats not true. So sometimes if Im saying something particular sensitive I will run it past him first. Is it okay if I write about this? And he just, like, rolled his eyes and then, okay, if you must.

I get a lot of complaints. If you search Google blog search and you look for my name, you would see a lot of people like getting really angry with the lifestyle I was leading or the stuff I was doing. For instance, I wrote a post about going to the gynecologist one day. And, man, the next morning I woke up and it's all over the blogosphere. Oh my god, she went to the gynecologist. Im, like, whats the big deal about going to the gynecologist? People do that all time.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

Ms. MADHAVAN: Im not talking about anything that I haven't seen happening. But at the same time I guess Im pretty stubborn, who likes to take some things head-on. And so, I write about women smoking and drinking, in particular me. I dont really write about other people. Im sort of doing a dual thing. Im saying this is the kind of people that there are in the country get used to it.

VICKIE BARKER: Im Vickie Barker in London, where there are arguably only two types of politicians: those who admit they follow the Guy Fawkes blog and those who do, but won't admit it.

(Soundbite of explosions)

BARKER: The homepage, Order-Order.com, features an animation of Big Ben being blown to smithereens. The content has performed similar demolition jobs on several political careers.

Mr. PAUL STAINS (Creator, Order-Order.com): Guy Fawkes is celebrated every November 5th over here for trying to blow up Parliament. Some people say he's batty. Some people say he's a goody. But there's one thing everyone knows, he was anti politicians and has a strong brand name.

BARKER: Five years ago, four centuries after his namesake, Paul Stains created his online alter ego. The nearly bankrupt businessman suddenly had a lot of time on his hands. A libertarian who once organized acid house parties in his student days, he described himself as Thatcher on drugs, Stains consciously set out to become Britain's Matt Drudge.

Like Drudge, he was initially dismissed as a know-nothing outsider, a purveyor of unfounded rumor and gossip. Like Drudge, he's been able to tap into a rich vein of disgruntlement among underpaid, overworked underlings.

Mr. STAINS: My stories tend to come from junior people: interns, researchers.

BARKER: He thinks the blog's chatty style - full of accounts of bumping into people in pubs, of getting drunk, of being thrown out of meetings makes him more approachable to his mostly young sources. Guy Fawkes now registers 100,000 hits a week. It's consistently rated Britain's most influential political blog.

Stains works out of a cramped office in Clerkenwell, a Dickensian corner of East London. He readily acknowledges that he, a non-journalist with a somewhat checkered professional past, could never have reached the heights he has without the Internet. He calls that his strength.

Mr. STAINS: I have no intention of going anywhere else in politics or in a career in journalism, so Im kind of free in that sense.

BARKER: Stains also believes he's carrying on in the tradition of the 17th and 18th century pamphleteers who did their blogging with that new technology, the printing press.

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BARKER: Times are changing in Britain's Parliament. Opinion polls suggest the next election could bring the Conservatives to power. The right-leaning Stains is torn.

Mr. STAINS: I hope it will be fun. Whether Ill have quite the vitriol remains to be seen. But I've got my disappointment in early. I think Ill have enough material to work on.

BARKER: After all, he says, he knows where all the bodies are buried.

For NPR News, Im Vickie Barker in London.

LOUISA LIM: This is Louisa Lim in Shanghai. And a native Shanghainese Han Han may just be the world's top blogger. His blog has had 218 million hits. And last year he became, by some estimates, the most read blogger in China.

He's a 26-year-old high school dropout turned author turned racing driver. Now his brand of scathing sarcasm has become the online voice of a generation: fighting injustice with irony. He says the Internet has profoundly changed the way young Chinese think.

Mr. HAN HAN (Blogger, Shanghai): (Through Translator) After information was liberalized, a lot of readers no longer trusted the state-run media. The lies they used to believe in were uncovered. So China now has two different languages: The language of state-run television stations and the language of young people.

(Soundbite of music)

LIM: The pop music on Han Han's Web site might soften the mood, but what he writes is far from mellow. A typical post muses on today's class structure in China. Only four classes exist, he opines: the poor, those slaving to pay their mortgages, the rich and the super rich. On government officials, he says 99 percent of their talk is bull. The other one percent is nonsense. Government officials are among his favorite targets.

Mr. HAN HAN: (Through Translator) I take liberties with them and satirize them because they're an extremely funny, extremely stupid group of people. And I hope Im someone who can tell right and wrong.

LIM: One of his most controversial posts, and there have been many, was inspired by the fire which destroyed part of the new headquarters of China Central Television. He called CCTV evil for telling lies, persecuting intellectuals and concealing wrongdoing. The post was soon deleted by censors. Han Han says his posts seldom get censored and it doesnt really bother him anyway.

Mr. HAN HAN: (Through Translator) I live in this country. I know the bottom-line. Being angry is meaningless, so why not try to be happy? If they delete the post, then you write another and see if they delete that. And if they do, then you just write another one.

(Soundbite of music)

LIM: Fight for every inch of freedom, sings Han Han in a pop song he believed. Once a teenage novelist, Han Han is coming of age online. Now he's being described as a public intellectual, an opinion former whose agenda is seeping over into the mainstream media. And he's confident in the power of the Worldwide Web. Allowing the Internet in China, he writes on his blog, must be our government's biggest regret.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: And our story about Indian blogger Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan was produced by NPR's Phil Reeves.

You can hear more stories about "The Net at 40" this weekend on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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