By Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga
The Internet is now with us, and it will never go away. So, as www.biliranisland.com commemorates the fourth anniversary of its cyberspace presence, I find it fit to write some reflections about the role and influence of the Internet in our lives.
It is a given fact that the Internet is now part of our language and the way we do things. A recent survey result posted by Aquarius, a familiar blogger, has it that the Internet is now accessed daily by about 26 percent of urban residents in the Philippines. Of course, the Internet is now certainly the most popular medium for touching base with home among members of the Biliran expatriate community – those Biliranons based in many other parts of the world, whose number far exceeds the entire population of our province.
The reach of the Internet is a source of envy among AM and FM radio owners and operators. For instance, self-surveys of the biggest AM radio station in Tacloban have always shown that they could only reach as much as 5% of the households within their area of coverage at any one time, and only during news hours; the percentage is much lower at other times of the day. FM stations are lucky if any of their radio stations can reach 1% of the audience within their smaller areas. This was the already the trend long before the Internet entered into our ordinary lives.
The radio can be heard by both the literate and illiterate populations. In contrast, the Internet has forced many semi-literates to learn how to type and to compose messages that could be read by friends, relatives, and prospective marriage partners abroad. You can ask the chatters in Internet cafés for confirmation of this claim. Yet, despite the difficulties and the constraints, more people prefer the two-way communication offered by the Internet to the one-way communication of AM and FM radios.
Biliran in the ‘Net
I was the first to popularize Biliran in the Internet. This was way back in 1998 when I opened a website, years before home telephones became a fact in Naval and before cellular phones could be used here. Then and now, my main target was an academic audience and the items I uploaded were written in English. But as the website started to take notice, surfers and guests also started to demand real-time opportunity to post their own messages. And so I included a series of guestbooks, until I stopped with one that can accommodate long messages. This was before “blog” became an Internet byword.
In 1999, as the diversity of the my audience became more apparent, I put the “Hometown Naval” and “Biliran Province” sections of my 15-MB capacity website. “Hometown Naval” contains comprehensive information about our town that would interest native Navalians, but which many others would not care about. Aside from its academic content, “Biliran Province” was intended to cater to the needs of technocrats in the national and international development community. This has since become a “one-stop shop” for accessing technical information about Biliran Province in the Internet.
Right from the start, I was aware that the Internet is also a battlefield. And I have witnessed a lot of quarrels in my guestbooks. Usually, there is no clear winner here. But the webmaster is always the most likely loser. He gets attacked by the protagonists on both sides of a quarrel and debate by people who would simply turn away after they have vent out their feelings in cyberspace.
One cannot have it all in cyberspace. After more than 10 years, the different sections of my website have reached sizeable audiences, but mostly people who don’t bother who the webmaster is, since two-thirds of them are outside the country anyway. I have also gained a few more friends, as well as permanent enemies.
When technology had caught up, I stuck to my old free domain and ignored suggestions from guests to accommodate direct posting of photos and graphics and fancy blogs. I set a limit to the popular demand, mainly because my website is virtually filled and I do not want to step beyond my academic and technical purpose for setting it up. Also, the Java I know is a place in Indonesia and not a new computer language that I have yet to learn. And most basic, the size of my free website is less than 1% of the entire capacity of www.biliranisland.com, which is a paid domain site.
It does not take a rocket scientist to tell that my website has obvious limitations. It is not very user-friendly and not fancy by current standards. But it fits my simple tastes, Spartan discipline, and unhurried lifestyle. Take it or leave it.
Of course, the deficiencies of my website did not escape the attention of Marlon Mecaral, the webmaster of www.biliranisland.com. And he thought he could fill the gaps by his effort. After all, he has a college degree related to computers and the Internet, he is young and in harmony with his generation, and he is also willing to share his talent and energy in expanding the visibility of Biliran Province in cyberspace.
In a recent blog item, Marlon wrote that www.biliranisland.com started out as a daydream. Before this, he had already put up his first website, www.boljoon.com. Every time he visited my website, which was his model, he always sensed something was lacking, the updates were not frequent, and it is not “interactive” (yes, that’s the word). These are observations that I will not dispute, precisely because they are true.
So he asked the opinion of Thea Nueve, his friend, if he should create another website for Biliran. Will it work? Will it become popular? Will it attract many guests? The answer was negative.
The chance came with the Miss Biliran Tourism 2005 contest, which provided the entry point for the new website with the agreement of Erwin Salvatierra, the key contest coordinator. Incidentally, that was also the time when somebody, a non-native official, had me declared a persona non grata in my hometown and home province for a journalistic piece that he disliked. I lost a lot of fair-weather friends from that disaster.
And so it came to pass that, almost overnight, www.biliranisland.com suddenly rose in popularity among Biliranons of all ages, shapes and sizes. It surely catered to the wants of a greater mass of people. As a result, Marlon also became some sort of local celebrity.
The website kept its popularity and further increased its following in the wake of the assassination of the late Gov. Danny Parilla on Sept. 7, 2006. The thousands of blogs related to this harrowing incident in our local history are still there for all to read.
Certainly, Marlon’s website caters to the tastes and temperaments of more people. It has certainly catered to the taste of local celebrity seekers, if we gauge by the postings of photos and fancy graphics in its guestbook, its photo section, and on its front page.
Like it or not, www.biliranisland.com, in terms of numbers of followers and guests, is now the most popular cyberspace hangout among Biliranons around the world. It is a ready source of news and information, and even gossip and intrigues – sometimes faster than a local gossip can actually reach the next street corner or house.
But can we keep it there?
It is never easy to manage a website. It demands time, attention, and special equipment, including at least a computer with multi-media capabilities and a digital camera for photos. And also money for maintenance purposes. In the case of Marlon, this would include funds for the Internet domain fees, monthly Internet bills, travel allowance for gathering news and data, and basic remuneration for his talent entrepreneurial efforts.
At the start, instant celebrity brought Marlon a lot of supporters and contributions. But he also fell into some of its attendant traps which we need not describe in detail. In due time, the same status also brought him detractors and vicious critics. And now many supporters seem to have shied away.
Still and all, the question remains: Can the Biliranon community – local, national, and international – continue to help keep www.biliranisland.com going?
I certainly support this website’s continued existence, with best wishes and occasional articles; but not with money, which I do not have much anyway, and from which I still spare amounts to pay for a similar set of bills for my own Internet-based public service.
I wish Marlon a happy occasion and an optimistic year ahead as www.biliranisland.com celebrates its 4th anniversary on April 21, 2009.