To let you know where we’ve been coming from, we actually need to rewind to 2004, when Chris, Ollie, and Ben founded Thinking-East – neweurasia’s predecessor website. With a focus on news and analysis generated by young people from the ground, the site shed light upon under-reported issues and provided a space for young, bright minds to make themselves heard.
Thinking-East proved particularly strong in reporting Central Asia and the Caucausus. The decision was made to focus upon these regions, and thus neweurasia was born. Blogs, with their low editing needs and quick, direct publishing, became our preferred medium. We went live in the summer of 2005, with all country blogs operational later that year.
The First Generation
neweurasia wouldn’t be around today without the many volunteers who helped to set up the website in the beginning. Their sharp minds and quick keyboards rapidly established neweurasia as one of the most visited blogs on the region. This group included Claire, Katy, Marianna, Peter, Rico, James, Neil, Jeremy, Nick to name but a few.
Neither would neweurasia be around today without the energy and dedication of the person behind the technology, Ollie, who shared our enthusiasm from day one. He has worked hard over the years to make sure our bloggers can make their voices heard without worrying too much about the technology behind the process.
We also owe a big “Thank You!” to Nathan Hamm, whose guidance and criticism was instrumental in shaping neweurasia during the early stages. Nathan’s blog Registan.net, which set the “industry standard” in terms of breadth, insight and depth of discussion, also provided much inspiration for us.
Then, in 2006, we teamed up with Transitions Online to evolve the project by making it much more driven by bloggers from Central Asia proper. Blessed with a generous grant from the Dutch foundation Hivos, we hired our first “bridge-bloggers”, local Central Asians who would serve as a connection between the region and world: Yulia, Leila, Vadim and Shohruh. They quickly started adding a much more local and authentic taste to our reporting. We were later joined by Adil, Askhat, Elena, Mirsulzhan, and Musafirbek.
Also during 2006 we branched into Russian and local language blogging, during which neweurasia developed into a truly local website. It soon ceased being simply a website bringing news from the ground to Westerners, but became a news-source for readers in Kazakhstan, Kygyzstan, and Tajikistan, as well. Indeed, today the network thrives upon its Central Asian readership: our two single largest sources of visitors are Almaty and Bishkek, and Kazakhstan accounts for 20% of our overall traffic, coming in third after the United States (29%) and United Kingdom (24%) and outranking Russia (10%).
Perhaps the most significant signal of our evolution was the news that our website had become censored in Uzbekistan during the summer of 2006. Even Turkmenistan, a black hole in the cyberspace, is showing an upward trend (albeit only two-digit numbers in terms of weekly visitors).
We are proud that involvement with neweurasia has meant a great deal of personal development for our bloggers. For example, in September 2006, TOL and neweurasia gathered the region’s most promising cyber-activists and representatives from mainstream media in Almaty. Additionally, we flew in many of our bloggers to Prague in June 2007 so that they could attend a two-week course on New Media.
neweurasia has published over 5,000 posts over the past four years. To pick highlights from the huge list of topics covered is a tricky task (and probably reason enough to write several “Best-Of” posts!) Our regular cross-blog surveys have seen many in- and out-network bloggers discuss the big issues facing Central Asia today, from HIV/Aids, Religion in Politics, to views on the past and of the future.
In 2009, we started a network-wide rejuvenation. Our website underwent a big facelift: Chris re-joined us, Yelena aka “Mursya” and Larisa joined us, as did Musafirbek as the network’s translator. Moreoever, we started writing our project’s first book, CyberChaikhana.
Taking stock of the Stanosphere (thanks to Ian for the word invention) over the last few years, today one can see many more blogs discussing everything from and about the region. A growing legion of local blogs have joined the Western Central Asia buffs who first paved the way for blogging in this fascinating region several years ago. We are proud that our work, alongside websites like Global Voices Online, has contibruted to “wiring” Central Asia with the world.