How Blogging Has Impacted My Life (contest entry)

The people at Brazen Careerist, a Gen Y-oriented career and jobs website, are giving away a free ticket (worth US$425) to SXSW Interactive, one of the world’s biggest digital media conferences. To get a shot at the ticket, they’re asking people to write a post on how blogging has impacted their life. I’m a conference geek, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about SXSW, so I thought I’d give it a shot – something different, for EducateDeviate.

I’ve been online ever since 1995, when it first came to Johor (Malaysia). I immediately latched on to it as an avenue for expressing myself and meeting people. There used to be a children’s website (possibly named KidSpot) that I was very active on – I’d write stories, find penpals, and even get books to review by post. I loved the Internet and hardly went offline (save for one year when my parents wanted me to study).

The Internet, and all the variations of blogging – starting from personal sites on Geocities to online diaries at Diaryland and Livejournal – have impacted my life in a lot of ways. I’ve gained and lost friendships (and sometimes my sanity went with them!), gained entry to events that I wouldn’t even had heard of otherwise, be able to counsel and support other people with similar or connected life stories, and help others help themselves.

Here is a story that illustrates how the Internet (and, in a bit, blogging) has made a major impact, one of those impacts being the formation of EducateDeviate:

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be an exchange student. My overprotective parents hardly let me out of their sight, and when the opportunity finally came up (at 16) by AFS Malaysia they only allowed me to apply to the Japan program because it was free. Of course, being free (it was sponsored by the Japanese Government), it was highly selective. I wasn’t too keen on Japan, but it was the closest I’ll ever be to being an exchange student, so I applied.

And was rejected.

To console myself, I decided to send a music request to By Demand, a then-new interactive music request show on Channel [V] International. The channel thought my request was pretty cool, so they had me as a caller on the show. I liked the experienced, and loved the show, so I made [my demand], a fansite for By Demand and their hosts, Adrian da Silva and Asha Gill.

This unexpectedly made me a celebrity amongst the [V] crew at the time. I was a regular caller/contributor and the crew, especially Asha, became very good friends. [V] moving and losing contact with Asha the next year became really tough personally (I was dealing with panic disorder and depression, and it was a major exam year) and I kept online journals documenting my thoughts and struggles.

In my first gap year in 2003, I used the Internet to search for opportunities and build an interesting life for myself. Asha and I got back in touch, and she got me to set up her official website. I also joined The Star-BRATS, and travelled to the US mainly for an American Idol concert (I was a major fan of Clay Aiken at the time) and received some notoreity amongst the Clay Aiken fandom – including a stint on national news! – for having travelled so far.

I entered my first university in 2004 and used the Internet to keep up with what was going on in KL, thereby starting my work in activism. My desire to be an exchange student still lingered, and I spent about a year looking up options. It was a comment on a post in Livejournal that led me to Up with People, and eventually the best experience of my life.

My Up with People trip showed me the power and joy of experiential learning, and – having talked to some of my school juniors about their experiences – knew that there was a demand for information but not enough resources. While in Dhaka (for my cousin’s wedding) I decided to start off the New Year with my thoughts on education and the year ahead. And so EducateDeviate was born.

Through EducateDeviate I’ve documented social trends in education, explained alternative education (and some of its forms), showcased opportunities unheard of by Malaysians or founded by Malaysians, and featured inspiring young people. A letter that turned into an article (and a blog post) became one of the most popular posts here. I’ve helped people close to despair and supported other young people helping their peers. There were attempts at a blog carnival and at an e-book, and a decent go at a blogathon fundraiser. There is also the push for more young people speaking at conferences – the list is still one of EducateDeviate’s most popular posts and will soon be a project with the International Young Professionals Association. And ther were always plenty of resources – what I wish I had some years ago. Because of all the young people that come together to support this site, EducateDeviate managed to gain an award – thank you everyone, it’s an awesome honour and it helps spread the word further.

I managed to get a little bit of notoriety during the UN Youth Assembly last year for my liveblogs, and spun that into some media experience with the GK3 Young Social Entrepreneurs Forum, which has led me to a whole bunch of interesting people and projects – as well as the utterly fantastic BrainStore company, which even gave me a paying research gig! There’s been other things like those too – mainly by building off one opportunity and seeing where that takes me. I’ve learnt a lot from some very inspiring bloggers, and was heartened to see that someday I could make my mark on local government with a blog as my starting point.

Sometimes I wish I was more like Gala Darling or the people at NOTCOT – the sheer popularity and influence of my blog leading to fantastic opportunities everywhere, all expenses paid! I did just get recently asked to speak at an AIESEC Malaysia conference (I can’t make it because I’m still here in Brisbane but good luck guys!) and I did get a free DVD to review, so I’m probably coming close. (All-expenses-paid trips to something like SXSW are still desired though, hint hint!) It takes luck, work, and keeping your eyes alert.

I’m already over a thousand words with this article, yet I could go on and on about how my blogging and involvement in social media (not just with EducateDeviate, but for other things) have let to an interesting and fascinating network, lots of experiences I wouldn’t have even imagined otherwise, and the propensity to give things a go even if it doesn’t look all that possible – you never know where it will take you!

I may slow down with EducateDeviate someday, or refocus – I would love to bring its work offline and do more real-world projects. However, blogging and the Internet will still be a core component of what I do and who I am.

I’ll end this with a cute little anecdote: blogging got me love. There’s a foreign exchange community on Livejournal and one of the posters used to create a comic strip about her experiences. We got to talking and she told me about International House, a university college in Brisbane. She convinced me to come stay there while I’m in Brisbane, and that was where I met my boyfriend. Two and a half years on, we’ve had our dramas and comedy, but we’re still going great. Who knows where this may lead!

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Expanding EducateDeviate – what would you like?

EducateDeviate has been up and running for over two years, and in this time it’s grown from being just a blog about my thoughts on education, to a resource for anything related to youth empowerment and non-traditional learning. With that, I’m planning to expand EducateDeviate to make it more self-sustainable, as well as being a better resource for everyone.

Here are some features I’d like to implement:

  • User-submitted content: So far I’m the only person that writes for this blog (aside for a guest post or two for Blogathon), but that means that posting schedules have to fit in with my (increasingly packed) real-life schedule. I would love to open the blog up to you, by allowing you to send in entries and see them published on EducateDeviate. Myself (and possibly a small team) would still moderate the entries for spam/clarity, but other than that, this is a great opportunity for you to get your opinions out and receive feedback from others.
  • Events listing: A lot of the posts I make on EducateDeviate are reminders for certain events or competitions – basically, anything with a certain deadline. It would be great to have a regularly-updated sidebar listing related events, which can be updated independently of the blog.
  • Resource directory: One of the main reasons I started EducateDeviate was to provide resources for alternative education opportunities. A directory of resources – programs, schools, people, links, books, etc – clearly organized and searchable by criteria would be amazing.
  • Forums: Some pretty interesting discussions can spring up here from time to time. Let’s encourage them!
  • Sponsorship: Currently, due to WordPress.com’s limitations, I am not allowed to put in any advertising. I’m not opposed to joining an ad banner service such as Nuffnag, Advertlets, or Adsense; however, I don’t want EducateDeviate to be a barrage of advertising. I’d rather advertise public services, non-profits, or youth ventures. So far I make nothing (no money) out of EducateDeviate, and while I don’t need to live off it, it would be good for EducateDeviate to sustain itself. Sponsorship from related organizations and companies would be a great way to connect EducateDeviate’s readers with other resources that could help them, and I would still have enough control to maintain editorial integrity. I could also introduce more commercial aspects such as an Amazon.com bookstore or T-shirts.

That’s just the beginning. In the future I’d like to develop the following:

  • The Educated Deviant scholarship fund to encourage young Malaysians to explore alternative education options
  • Special events such as roadshows, workshops, fairs, and so on
  • Books and other publications – the eBook I’m working on with Daniel is a great start, and I’d love to make more of these
  • Podcasts and vlogs – with enough resources, EducateDeviate could be even more interactive
  • Consulting and counselling services for companies that want to connect to young people, or for young people that want to explore alternative education but don’t know how.

As part of my goals for EducateDeviate is to develop a community of educated deviants, I would like to pose the next question to you:

What do you want to see in EducateDeviate?

Any idea, no matter how weird or silly, is fine. You may inspire something that shows up on the site! Also, if you want to help me develop EducateDeviate further (particularly if you have any experience with web development), please contact me.

Know a kick-ass indie designer/event manager/promoter?

(cross-posted to EducateDeviate, Wanna Be A KP, and Facebook)

I’ve got some plans to develop EducateDeviate further (to make it more self-sustainable) as well as to boost my chances at getting KaosPilots funding.

To do that, I need help with the following:

  • Web design and development – particularly those who can take my list of “I need my website to do this, that, and the other” and develop a nifty CMS that makes the job easy (more details later) while keeping to a certain aesthetic.
  • Graphic design, particularly for postcards and brochures – I have ideas, I just can’t design all that well
  • Event management – someone who can take my ideas and work out how to make it happen
  • Promotions/marketing/publicity – the maven who can get all that above OUT THERE
Now I am a simple college student, which means I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on this endeavour. (I was looking around yesterday and one company quoted $15,000 for a simple website. DUDE. I could go to UWP again and have change with that money.) However, I would love to support indie young up-and-coming artists/designers/practitioners. I’ve been doing that with fashion and I want to do that with more aspects of my life.

I’m looking for someone who can relate to all this as personal projects – too many other options I’ve seen assume I’m a business and get into business-speak. I want someone that’s human. Someone creative and daring. Someone who would pull me out of my box. Someone young is a bonus.

Know anyone who fits this? Are you willing to help? Drop me a line.