Cambodia's Third Internet Party -- a trade expo featuring names such as Online, Citylink, and Microsoft -- for the first time provided a section dedicated exclusively for Cambodian bloggers, or "cloggers" as they are known in the local Web parlance.
Prompted by the rising popularity of cloggers Internet Party organizer In Mean extended the group a personal invitation to this year's event. As CEO of Manich Enterprises, a web hosting and Internet company, In Mean sees cloggers as the next generation of IT executives.
Admittedly, in a country where less that 45,000 use the Internet, cloggers represent a small part of a tiny web community. But compared to her much larger neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, where Internet users number in the several millions, Cambodia has a comparable number of web-loggers, says Preetam Rai of Harvard's Global Voices weblog network, a group that monitors Web usage and blogging around the world.
Internet Party 2008, held at the city's newest shopping mall, Sovanna, signed up a few dozen more.
"Probably 40 to 50 new blogs were set up at this event," says Be Chantra of Open Institute, which sponsored a booth along with CIDC Information Technology.
Veteran and newly minted cloggers advertised their net addresses on a crowded banner that demonstrated a generous turnout. Volunteers handed out t-shirts and open-source software. Students played computer games and party attendees lined up for prizes.
"The second day's afternoon was the most exciting part as I met a lot of bloggers, male and female," writes clogger Keo Kounila about the party on her blog Inside My Heart. "I like the female ones; they were strong in nature."
Like Keo Kounila, most cloggers are high-school and university-aged students representative of Cambodia's post-war baby boom. An increasing number of them are young women. On the Internet and in their web logs they seem to be finding a safe space to probe the country's social boundaries.
"I like communication and debate on social topics," says NGO worker Chak Sopheap. "We can share news, express our opinions."
The interchange of ideas on the web contrasts with Cambodia's often rigid social traditions, where children are taught to follow authority without question, and the word "debate" comes loaded with tense undertones of defiance.
While the web comes mostly unhinged from such real world pressures -- mostly because the older generation doesn't "speak Internet," as one clogger put it -- not everyone writes with abandon.
Many cloggers identify with only initials, or use an alias. One female clogger who uses the pen name Nearirath says that while she writes about many things in her life, she is more comfortable sharing her blog among friends.
Romance and love interests are common themes, topics still considered taboo by many, especially parents who grew up under very different social norms.
"Maybe someday I will share it with my family," says Nearirath.
With or without the knowledge of their elders, the skills and camaraderie cloggers discovered on the Internet are now spilling over into the real word. As models with teased hair entertained a crowd of hundreds and awards were announced leading up to the crowning of an Internet Queen, "The largest Clogger Meeting Ever!" began in a spacious room to the left of the stage with a lively discussion on the roles and representation of women in media.
"This is a very interesting trend," says Keo Kounila. "Blogs give chances to women to think and write. This also enhances equality between men and women as well as freedom of expression."