Heirs of the blog
Parents' blogs are often like holiday albums: records of the minutiae of family life and children's experiences, usually of little interest to anyone except the people generating them.
Livelier blogs, however, can attract thousands of visitors daily. But it takes effort to keep things interesting, and popularity brings headaches as well as rewards.
Angel Ip Kar-lai is among Hong Kong's best-read parent bloggers. Ip has kept a diary since she was little, so blogging (http://blog.yahoo.com/angelmamafamily) seemed a natural outlet for expressing her feelings as she awaited the birth of her first child in 2007.
With frequent updates, lots of photos and detailed narration, Ip's blog is a hit. Frequently featured on the front of the Yahoo blog site, it draws more than 2,000 visitors every day and has totted up more than 11.5 million page views. The entries are set out according to the monthly age of her son Tobia, now five. Visitors can easily read about and may learn from Ip's experience - children grow rapidly and issues surfacing one month may be very different from the next.
With her daughter Artemis turning three, Ip is busier than ever. But the unexpected network of support she has found through the blog keeps her going. Through her posts, Ip has come to know other mothers who write comments and suggest solutions to her problems.
'We visit each other's blogs. As our children are similar ages, we are going through the same experiences. From relieving babies' teething pains to changing diets and choosing kindergartens, this group of mum bloggers will give suggestions,' she says. Ip's blog has a following of loyal readers, which she attributes to the fact that she likes to 'keep things real'.
'I don't try to portray us as the perfect family. When my children are misbehaving, I also blog about that. I write about what other parents - who may not have the time or energy to maintain a blog - feel about raising children. It's like I help to voice what's in their hearts.'
That's how Ip found a fan in Candy Po. Po was expecting her own daughter when she discovered Ip's blog five years ago, while surfing for pregnancy tips. She has followed it ever since.
'I love reading her blog because what it talks about, such as when a baby will learn to sit, is similar to what I observe in my daughter, so I know what to expect,' Po says.
Ip's ability to give a hilarious twist to her descriptions of family life adds to the charm, Po says. 'When she talks about her children getting up to mischief, it reminds me of my daughter; she talks about parents' behaviour in a fun way.'
The two women have even become friends: it turned out that their children were attending the same kindergarten and they hit it off after meeting at a parents' gathering.
Parent blogs are now regular reading for people like Po.
'When some parents stopped writing, it seemed as if I'd lost a friend,' she says. 'I'd been reading about their children and seeing them grow since they were young, as if we were family ... Even when I'm at work, I'll check a blog to see if there's a new post and find out what the family are up to. Otherwise, I feel twitchy.
'I tried writing a blog myself, but it felt strange to have strangers commenting on the posts, so I now keep a diary instead.'
The explosion in parent bloggers can be observed through websites such as Baby Kingdom (www.baby-kingdom.com). At its peak, its Blog Kingdom platform registered more than 9,000 members, some 5,000 of whom were active. Despite a revamp in 2011, more than 3,800 members remain registered on the blogging service.
Jackie Tse Chiu-chi, the founder of MyBB Parent-child Platform (mybb.com.hk), suggests that blogging has become essential for young parents, who are turning to each other for help because the experience and practices of the older generation may no longer apply in today's lifestyle.
Blogging encourages interaction, and readers and creators can share experiences as friends do, says Tse, whereas online forums offer limited opportunity to revisit topics and content is not as comprehensive.
Another popular blogger, Natalie Chow Ching-yee, has a more polished presentation than most. Being a former beauty editor, she wrote mainly about fashion and make-up before turning her attention to domestic matters after becoming a mother. These days, her entries are mostly about her children, two-year-old daughter Faith and six-month-old son Hope.
Rather than adopt a diary-like style, she offers lively vignettes of life with her children, along with plenty of nicely edited videos (some of which drew more than 100,000 views, thanks in no small measure to her husband Penny Cheng Kai-man, a commercial director).
Chow, who attracts more than 1,500 visitors to her blog each day, also takes pride in sharing useful information - her search for a quality play mat, for instance, attracted a lot of feedback from readers.
'Talking only about my children can sometimes get boring. Delving occasionally into consumer products offers more universal topics for discussion. The blog becomes more interesting and diverse that way,' she says. 'When I compared three pairs of kitchen scissors that I bought, readers talked about those they've tried themselves or asked me where I got mine.'
Companies eager for publicity regularly flood popular blogs with offers of free products and services, but conscientious writers recognise they tread a fine line when reviewing or introducing such items.
Singwa Lim, creator of the buckeroomama blog, says although the page design makes it difficult to accept button or banner advertising, she is approached by businesses ranging from online shops to producers of iPhone apps and children's stick-on tattoos.
'I have done some reviews, partly because the companies offered my readers a chance to win a prize from them. This allows me to host a giveaway and it is fun,' she says. 'I only go for products or services that don't conflict with what I believe in. Otherwise, I would turn down the offer.'
A keen diarist, Lim turned to blogging a few years ago because it allows her to better manage multimedia content (relating mostly to her children, seven-year-old Josh and five-year-old Zoe) as well as her interest in photography.
'Compared to electronic means, keeping a journal seemed tedious,' says Lim, a baby sign instructor who teaches parents simple gestures to communicate with infants before they can speak. 'With my blog, I can see my entries on the internet and can keep everything neat and tidy. If there's a mistake, I can easily delete or edit. And I don't have to print out photos to attach on a journal.
'It looks much prettier; I can look back on it or show it to my children; and it is also instantaneous - I can easily post about what they said or did.'
Chow, too, has plenty of freebies steered her way, especially given her wealth of PR contacts; but she prefers to restrict her blogs to personal discoveries and what she's fond of, rather than writing about something that is irrelevant to her out of obligation.
So when a company suggested a three-week trial of its latest baby stroller, with the expectation of a write-up, she turned it down.
'I rejected it, as it would bring more inconvenience than advantage; I already have [a stroller] and my home is not big at all,' says Chow.
Ip learned the hard way that discerning readers are quick to spot more disingenuous posts. Her popularity made her a target for companies seeking publicity, and she soon received her first freebie - a carton of diapers. Ip admits she was a little greedy at the beginning, and indulged herself with the gifts - until negative comments started coming in from readers.
'I was surprised. All they asked me to do was to take a photo and mention it in my blog,' she says. 'Since then, I have received all kinds of freebies - from cosmetics to home appliances such as air conditioners, computers and vacuum cleaners, as well as trips to stay in hotels in Macau. They keep sending stuff to my home, although I haven't said yes to them.
'In the past, I wrote about the freebies, and at some point readers started to say my blog was ruined. I was very upset and started rejecting stuff I didn't need.'
But sometimes innocuous posts also attract unfair comments, she says, recalling how a photo of her children playing with an iPhone while she chatted with friends at a gathering brought criticisms about her child-raising methods.
'They had no idea how precious that gathering was to me, or that I don't let my children use the gadget at home at all.'
Ip now regards such accusations as par for the course, but she tries to teach her children to remain level-headed despite the high profile or freebies they receive because of her hit blog. Her family is often invited to try out new facilities, such as rides at Disneyland, before everyone else, and the family photographs she posts means they are recognised on the street. While this prompts her husband and relatives to try to dodge her camera, the recognition is starting to make her children feel special.
'Strangers sometimes ask to take photos with Tobia and he has now picked up the term 'fan'; but I don't want him to think he's a celebrity or a big shot,' Ip says.
While Tobia may enjoy the attention, it can be scary for younger children, thus causing problems.
But despite any such difficulties, the bloggers plan to keep up with their posts, if only because it's a great way of chronicling their family's experiences over the years.
And as insurance that all their effort isn't lost because of technical failures or when sites close down, enterprising mums are compiling their entries into books.
Ip, for example, has already published an e-book of her blog posts, while Lim plans to issue a print version of hers.
'I'm quite careful and seldom write about anything too personal in my posts, although I may consider changing the blog to a private setting when the children grow older,' Lim says. 'But what I will definitely do - after I've edited out all of the non-family posts - is print it out into a book.'