Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Nuffnang Story

Where it comes to blogging, it's essential to establish good relationships with people. Bloggers inevitably tend to form communities, reaching out and building friendships with not just readers, but also with fellow bloggers. We are after all highly social animals, and the whole point of blogging is to communicate ideas to an audience that could potentially number in the thousands, if not millions.

I've been a member of Nuffnang for some time; if any of you have taken a look at my sidebar (which I really need to update and manage on a more regular basis), you will notice a small space set aside for ads. While I cannot consider myself someone who actively participates in Nuffnang-related activities, nor am I the sort who goes the extra mile to socialise with other bloggers, I'd like to write a short post about my experiences with Nuffnang, from the perspective of a nature blogger.

I appreciate how Nuffnang has made sure that the ads it selects aren't too distracting, and that blogs who work with them aren't swamped with popups that activate one's spyware filters, or rollover ads that screw up the overall layout of the site. I'm sure that grabbing the attention of readers with such ads simply doesn't justify causing so much annoyance and irritation.

I'll admit, most of the contests and ad campaigns offered to Nuffnang affiliates aren't always relevant to the content of this blog. Even if the prizes are attractive, they usually involve writing posts about something that is beyond the scope I have defined for this site. I mean, as far as the local and regional blogospheres are concerned, there are so many other bloggers out there who are infinitely more qualified to write about subjects like beauty, food, fashion, gadgets, and so on. Just like how you won't expect a food blogger to comment about the European debt crisis, or a fashion blogger to write a very detailed post about the merits of Android phones over the iPhone, so I don't clutter my blog with pretensions of being a connoisseur of good food or a witty film critic.

While I did go through a phase in my earlier years as a lifestyle blogger who wrote extensively about any topic that interested me, I eventually saw the need to specialise and focus on a particular area where I can excel. True, I could actively and aggressively participate in every other product endorsement opportunity or contest that comes my way; it is after all my blog, and I have the final say as to what I choose to post, but that would mean compromising my principles and losing sight of the reason why I decided to set up a nature blog in the first place. And to be honest, lifestyle bloggers who write about all sorts of things are a dime a dozen, and it takes a truly exceptional person to rise above the competition. I feel that if you want to attract the attention of readers and to be remembered, it's best to find a subject you are knowledgeable in and focus on it. It's also good to stay humble, and to never rest on your laurels; you must always seek to improve and hone your skills. Whoever said blogging was easy?

These days, the Singaporean blogosphere tends to be made up of discrete little communities, each focusing on a specific topic. For instance, if you look at the list of finalists for the Singapore Blog Awards, you have different sites labelled as food, tech, travel, photography, family, fashion, and beauty blogs. These same categories are adopted by most contests, and the upcoming Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards follows a similar system of classification.

Unfortunately, just like the Singapore Blog Awards, the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards do not offer any category that best suits a nature or environment-themed blog. Sure, there is the Best Geek Blog category, considering that many of us nature bloggers are extremely knowledgeable about wildlife and environmental issues, but it looks like it's geared more towards video games, technology, or gadgets, subjects that we'd normally associate with the word 'geek'. Some of us certainly qualify for the Best Photography Blog, but given that there usually isn't much discussion on equipment and the technical aspects of photography, and we don't really focus on capturing the abstract and artistic, I can understand why nature photographers may get passed over in favour of other nominees. We do travel to some rather exotic corners of Singapore, so we could fall under the Best Travel Blog category, though no crossing of international borders is involved. A case could be made for having nature blogs represented by the Best Lifestyle Blog, or Hidden Gem categories, but the definitions are so broad that it's easy to be lost in a flood of nominees.

What many people often don't realise is that Singapore has a growing nature blogging community, one that gets a fair bit of attention from science and nature bloggers overseas. Take for instance this 2-part feature on the global Nature Blog Network, that highlighted some notable Singaporean nature blogs. 12 blogs were mentioned (including this one), but these are just a small proportion of a growing number of blogs that focus on nature and the environment in Singapore. Indeed, for such a small country, we have a lot of nature blogs out there, covering so many different aspects of our natural heritage, from butterflies and birds to marine life, so much so that we've been referred to as a 'nature blogging juggernaut'. I'm sure that other countries throughout the Asia-Pacific have their own little communities of nature bloggers too.

Personally, I think it's time we nature bloggers received more recognition and attention, not so much for the sake of getting product endorsements or to feed our egos, but more in the sense of reaching out to more Singaporeans, who are often still ignorant and unaware of the natural treasures that Singapore still possesses. Being 'green' is the buzzword these days, and there is much talk about issues such as sustainability, clean energy, climate change, and loss of biodiversity, but it is difficult to engage people and get them to strive towards being more environmentally conscious if they don't have an appreciation for Singapore's natural treasures in the first place. Many people express incredulity, surprise or disbelief when we talk about trying to protect Singapore's coral reefs, or our last few patches of rainforest, and while blogging has been an invaluable platform in raising awareness, we could always do with some publicity to boost our efforts at outreach and education.

(Photo by Timberland Singapore)

Having said that, I appreciate how Nuffnang opens doors for many bloggers, calling attention to previously unknown gems and giving them opportunities to reach a wider audience and collaborate with businesses. For instance, even though there aren't many campaigns suitable for nature bloggers, there was one that seemed perfect: a blogging competition in collaboration with Timberland Singapore, and the chance to travel to Inner Mongolia and Sichuan as part of the Timberland Earthkeepers. I decided to participate, won, and had a really memorable experience that really counts as one of the highlights of my life so far. And for that, I'm really grateful to Nuffnang for having worked with Timberland Singapore to organise the competition. There is a lot of potential for nature bloggers to be involved in future campaigns, and I'm sure that Nuffnang will continue to work with clients to create such opportunities.

(Photo by Jervis Mun)

(Photo by Timberland Singapore)

Come 16th of December, 500 bloggers from all over the Asia-Pacific will gather at the Putrajaya Marriott in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards. This event, which is brought to you by Volkswagen Malaysia and Putrajaya Marriott, aims to not only recognise the efforts of the region's best bloggers, with winners decided by fellow bloggers and readers, but also intends to bring together blogger communities from across the Asia-Pacific. Indeed, it will be an excellent opportunity to network and potentially make more friends, to link up with bloggers of all stripes, and to build more relationships at the international level.

Kudos to Nuffnang for holding this event, and I'm sure many bloggers throughout the region are excited to have the opportunity to attend. And as new bonds are forged, who knows what future developments lie in store for the blogosphere.