Asia’s technology blogging scene shows massive potential

Asia is one of the fastest growing and exciting digital markets on the planet right now.

The region is fast becoming a key focus for established internet firms – like Facebook, Twitter, GoogleFourSquare – who seek to grow their user base amongst Asia’s increasingly tech-savvy audiences. The market itself has ignited with mobile (and smartphone in particular) providing easy internet access, potentially enabling millions to go online, while the companies born of this boom are pushing themselves out of the region for growth as RenRen – China’s Facebook – and its upcoming US IPOs demonstrates.

Despite these goings-on, the Asia technology blog scene remains in a somewhat less advanced state, which is crucial as there is an important story to be told.

Of all the blogs that dominate the US tech scene, such as Mashable, TechCrunch, Read Write Web, All Things D, only one has any kind of presence in the Asia market – TechCrunch, which runs a dedicated Japanese site and regularly includes contributions from Serkan Toto, its Japan-based Asia correspondent. (It did include more on-the-ground reporting when TechCrunch scribe Sarah Lacy posted a number of despatches during a recent spell in Indonesia and across Asia while preparing her latest book and working with the US State Department.)

The significance of this is huge. While key tech stories get coverage in top US blogs, they are almost invariably broken in Asia where the analysis and intelligence is presented.

The situation is sure to change as Asia’s influence continues to grow but, for now, there is a clear opportunity for Asia to tell its own story for those wanting to stay up with the latest developments.

And therein lies the difficulty.

Asia is so vast and diverse – culturally, linguisticly and economically – that running an equivalent, US-like one blog for all markets model is challenging.

The expertise and insight is clearly here, it is just specialised for each market. Focusing purely on English blogs,  stand-out pundits and bloggers include TechRice and Technode in China, Asiajin in Japan, Daily Social in Indonesia, Social Media NZ in New Zealand and in India.

Equally there are a number of clued-up individuals, like Thomas Crampton or Michael Netzley, who blog on and pick up key issues across the region but as lone guns they do not have the capacity to produce large amounts of content daily.

What of the blogs that cover the entire region?

There are a number of cross-regional blogs that exist but the list is far shorter than one might expect. Singapore-based e27, TNW, which recently added an Asia Editor to its substantial list of markets, Young Upstarts, a Singapore-based start-up/tech blog, and Penn Olson, a blog initially founded by two Singaporean students which closed funding from Indonesian-based East Ventures a little over a week, as you can read here.

Right now Penn Olson is arguably the most intriguing of the list having gone from student blog to funding in less than two years. The blog started life as a very general social media and technology blog before “pivoting” to find its niche in technology, the web and start-ups across Asia. Most recently I’ve heard estimates that it receives around 600,000 hits per month, which is certainly impressive and prompted East Ventures to make its investment.

No doubt the blog’s social media presence – which includes an 8,o00 plus following on Twitter and more than 3,500 Facebook fans – its listing as a Google News source, the volume of articles it publishes (which has increased notably since funding) and founder Willis Wee’s belief and drive are all critical factors too – but ultimately, Penn Olson has a unique position as the sole blog focused 100% on digital in Asia, which is clearly where East Ventures sees potential.

So while TNW and others may adopt a regional focus, and very well I might add, it lacks the roster of Penn Olson – which has expanded considerably over the last month with typically anything up to four or five authors posting at least one piece per day.

Penn Olson and Willis freely admit that there is a long way to go, and no doubt this will be organic – down to news and market developments – as much as Penn Olson and East Venture’s own design.

While Penn Olson has always covered a lot of news – in terms of volume – there is perhaps scope to expand on its analytical approach and develop a more selected approach to content, rather than picking up all Asian digital news as is currently the case.

I’d be interested to know the approach taken to SEO. While there is no doubt that the HuffPo approach of writing more ‘basic’ content drives traffic, too many infographics and easy headlines could dilute the blog’s credibility amongst the region’s tech community, whose participation – both as an audience and provider of news and interviews, is another key factor for the blog’s growth and the development of Asia’s technology blogging community.

How, also, will the blog manage the conflict of interest presented when a blog dedicated to start-ups and tech in Asia is funded by one of the region’s leading VC firms? Will those in East Venture’s stable enjoy easy access to Penn Olson, will other VCs lose interest in the blog or can the two co-exist without influence?

There is a massive need and opportunity for the Asian tech blogging scene to develop.

The region’s tech industry is arguably under-served by its media. More media and voices are needed to help champion the innovation and great thinking initiatives coming out of Asia. A more development reporting community could help bring promising companies and individuals to attention regionally and globally.

With its recent funding, Penn Olson has a great opportunity to get things moving. As digital and tech continue to increase in significance in Asia, and Asian technology’s stock continues to rise internationally, other pan-regional blogs – and perhaps dedicated on-the-ground coverage from US sources – are likely to emerge as the Asian tech blogging scene develop into a more dynamic and diverse tech blogosphere which reflects this exciting continent.

UPDATE: interesting to see that TechCrunch has brought a China-based writer, Jeremy Goldkorn, onto its roster – his first article went out 26 April.

FURTHER READING: my interview with Penn Olson founder Willis Wee builds on a number of discussions of blogging in Asia and the growth of Penn Olson itself