In a country that has few outlets for voicing your opinion, it’s quite a feat. The site has a big following.
Not all is rosy, though. Critics say that around 70 percent of the content is generated by about 30 avid users. Business owners also have mixed feelings about anonymous writers writing ‘unfair’ reviews of their restaurants, bars and shops. Nonetheless, the New Hanoian has broken through the boundaries of apathy, something to be applauded. The site is going from strength to strength.
Getting it Going
Three-and-a-half years ago, when the people behind The Word were working on a publication called Saigon Inside Out, we introduced a free Classifieds section. It was a failure. We had to scrape around for adverts and then few of the advertisers got a response.
A year ago we tried something similar with our readership survey. Once again it was hard going, and after swathes of publicity we eventually got 300 completed surveys, both filled in by hand and online. We had been aiming for 500 responses. Our Inbox section in the print edition of The Word also generates feedback. However, there have been times when filling up the space has been tough.
Our present attempt at getting readership participation is faring a little better. We asked readers to vote by SMS for the male and female they believed to be the most eligible bachelor or bachelorette in town. After four days we’ve received over 100 SMSs. Not as many as we hoped, but enough to make the project viable.
Read blogs on the BBC or The Guardian websites and the user feedback is phenomenal. By creating a space where people can air their views, suddenly you get a forum for public debate that often doesn’t exist elsewhere. In a place like Vietnam this is vital.
Not only do the comments make for interesting reading and create an environment for information sharing and generating ideas, but they create debate and produce useful insight for blog writers, editors and website owners. It helps them give the user what they want.
One of the reasons The Word has reached its present position in Saigon is that we have tried to listen. We’ve actively sought readers’ comments, both positive and negative, and based on this feedback we’ve tried to adapt to people’s needs.
However, the communication continues to be one-way and most readers remain apathetic. They’re either too lazy or simply don’t want to get involved.
The New Hanoian has one function which encourages user-generated content; the writer can create their own user name and remain anonymous. With such small foreign communities this is important. Many are scared to rock the boat, don’t want to offend anyone or are concerned that by speaking out they’ll look like a fool.