Tuesday Jun 02

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Get to know Hazirah, co-founder of Open Brunei and B:Read

HazirahHazirah Marzuke co-founded both Open Brunei (openbrunei.org) and B:Read (https://www.facebook.com/breadbn), communities which serve the Bruneian population in different ways. I speak to Hazirah here about the creation of Open Brunei, what it’s like to collaborate online and off, and the separation of public and private spaces.

Hazirah is a graduate of the University of Warwick, and worked in e-government in Brunei for five years before beginning an MA in Digital Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2013.

Before Open Brunei and B:Read, there was…

My history on the Internet: I created my first website on GeoCities in 1998, and yes, I am responsible for my father's Internet bill that same year. I ran a fan website for a popular game for a few years, and had a blog which was off the Simpur Blogging Nation radar and quite unremarkable. Many years of my Internet life were spent as a fangirl and making websites. Now I'm just a lurker on Reddit, I occasionally tweet and blog, and I run Open Brunei and B:Read with my friends.

Early Websites

The Open Brunei origins story.

Open Brunei came about when Faiq Airudin and I came up with the idea of an MRT or London Underground type of map, but using Brunei locations. We called this the Brunei-Muara Metro Service. It seemed like something different from what we usually posted on our own websites; his was photography, and mine was a blog. Faiq was already in discussion with Hazwan Jaya about writing about art and culture from a Brunei perspective. So we thought about creating a new website on art and culture and other subjects that we were personally interested in. I wanted to make infographics and spreadsheets, things to do with data, and also share Brunei-related stuff I digged up on my online travels. Seriously, this is the story.

But after posting our Brunei-Muara metro map and write-up, we reached almost 1000 views in a week. For a handful of posts on a new website, I hadn't really expected more than one or two hundred views. There was a modest amount of comments, including on Facebook, and a lot of shares. I really liked the idea of provoking people’s thoughts, and of people discussing things contemplatively and critically.

So with Open Brunei, we aim to generate interesting discussions but also maintain a level of quality in terms of clarity and openness. I hope this has been demonstrated so far!

What has been the most interesting thing to come out of running Open Brunei, personally?

I can think of this in two ways. I was personally surprised to see my own role emerge as an editor and, to a lesser extent, as a writer. I always think it’s great when we try new things and discover more about ourselves.

It’s also been very interesting to see people’s responses, when they comment and share. I am generalizing, but I might surmise from the responses that people are interested in thoughtful content about arts, culture and - for some reason - transport. For the metro post, I liked some of the critical comments that were posted on Facebook - one pointed out that Jalan Menteri Besar, the same road where the Immigration Department and several Ministries are located, should be serviced by more than one line. Another pointed out that Brunei is still covered by forest, hence a metro service could not be built in a big circle. There were a number of good comments for Tourists for a Day as well.

Brunei Metro Service

You are also one of the co-founders of B:Read! Both Open Brunei and B:Read seem to me to be very community-spirited. Tell me about this.

I have never really thought of that, but yes, I suppose you could call me somewhat community-minded, in the sense that I believe in community-created things like wikis.

With B:Read, we tell people that they can initiate their own gatherings or even book-swapping events. The first bookswap we participated in wasn’t even initiated by us, but by a member of the group (then called “Brunei Bookswap”) on Facebook. I have heard of other swaps happening in Brunei and am pleased to hear it. You can view this cynically and see us as selfish; maybe the B:Read committee want to lessen the burden of doing things ourselves because the community is doing them instead. But I also think it’s a matter of not wanting to control everything that has to do with the reading culture in Brunei - why should we claim that mission as ours and only ours?

I also like to see a range of perspectives and discussions that are open and tolerant, so in another sense I’m interested in different subgroups within communities. B:Read has been great for meeting people outside of my social circles - teenagers who don’t have their own money to buy books, teachers from other districts, business owners - who all have a perspective on reading and books.

I think Open Brunei is less diverse in its scope, because our posts are exclusively in English and perhaps colored by our overseas-educated backgrounds. I’d like to see more variety of thought, including intersections where people with knowledge or experience can fill in the gaps made by the Open Brunei team and our contributors.

Another relationship between the two, I think, is that the teams for both B:Read and Open Brunei aren’t especially interested in making money, and that drives some of our decisions, such as seeking sponsorship (or not), our approaches to promotion and who we work with and whether we will ever make B:Read t-shirts. I guess we share similar ideals of the free culture ideologies, hence swapping books instead of selling them.

On using online communities to foster offline communities.

For Open Brunei, I can’t say there is any offline community activity at the moment. The “Tourists for a Day” public transport experiment was conceived by my friends, so I can’t take credit on that point.

But for B:Read, we are definitely conscious of supplementing the online community with offline activities. I initially saw the Facebook group only as an online community for swapping books, but talking to other co-founders, Teah Abdullah, Mohamed Nazmi, and Faiq, our ideas for B:Read as a way to encourage reading culture were rooted in the physical. Partly I think it is to do with the physicality of books - gathering books for book donations, for example - and also acknowledging different ways in which to encourage reading in the wider public - doing book readings (reading out loud from a book to an audience), having public events. We also think that meeting other readers is important. Who else but a fellow reader to engage in discussion about books, or to recommend or receive recommendations about books, and in effect keep your reading habit going?

I have a love for the online world, so I definitely still believe it’s a good way to pursue any specific or niche interests you have - as a teenager, I frequented Harry Potter forums discussing more in-depth aspects of the series - whether “good” and “bad” are really so black-and-white in the series, theories about understated moments in the books, and even critiques of whether JK Rowling’s writing was actually good. But I know quite a few Potterheads in real life now, and I think these are things I can discuss with them. There is a joy meeting other people who read, and who are also from the same culture or country as you - people you can relate to because they also grew up with the idiosyncrasies of Bruneian society.

I think this will play out with any hobby or interest, really - the power of the Internet to find other like-minded people online, and to offer them the option to meet in real life, and use these online and offline spaces to share their world with one another.


On running a public space, as a private person.

I personally don’t see a huge problem with running a public community as a private person. I think I’ve learned to take a certain approach with my online “identities” on various websites and platforms. We all have a responsibility to manage our online identities. If you like to write controversial things in Facebook groups, I think it’s inevitable that others might click through to view your profile; it’ll then be up to you how open or closed you want your profile to be. At the same time, the boundaries of privacy are shifting between our personal and public spaces online, and we can’t always control them.

Personally, I like a certain degree of privacy and I prefer working behind the scenes - a friend once described me as "media-shy". But I have learned, with B:Read, that promoting an event or a community requires you to put your name out there and talk to people. Sometimes it means sharing parts of yourself first, trusting that it will encourage others to do the same and get involved in the community. I think this varies from person to person, what your personal boundaries are, and how you negotiate them publicly, including online. Even within the committee, we take different approaches to this, with some people being more comfortable than others with sharing details about themselves.

With Open Brunei, and a blog post I wrote once about the Legislative Council (Majlis Mesyuarat Negara), it has been posed to me only twice whether I am concerned about critiques when related to the government. I think it is important to be able to critique, but I am also aware that people may feel guarded about doing this. I don’t use my full name online, but it’s not necessarily because I am worried about repercussions, but more to do with my own sense of personal privacy. I also think it’s important how you do such critique. A writing style that provokes or is sarcastic may get you more notoriety, while a “dry” writing style may not get you any readers. I prefer a balance between the two.

Open Brunei and B:Read seem to be very collaborative endeavours. Do you have any tips for successful collaboration, or advice for people looking to collaborate on creative or organisational projects?

Thank you for asking this - I believe that good team effort is just as important to celebrate as individual effort or good leadership. The B:Read committee has no president - it’s somehow worked with us prodding each other when we want to get stuff done. There seems to be a trend of nurturing “leaders” and teaching “leadership”, which I think is more about a set of qualities such as decision-making, taking initiative, etc. These qualities are just as useful when working in teams.

The B:Read committee has been great and I’m lucky that I can consider them as good friends of mine (hi guys, you’re the best!). I think it helps if everyone is working towards the same goals and values. I’ve mentioned earlier how the B:Read and Open Brunei teams aren’t particularly driven to make money.

That said, we are also open to each other’s differences, or “strengths and weaknesses”, as the corporate world likes to call them. We know who’s good at graphic design or writing copy, who enjoys liaising with people, who’s great at finding information online, and using this to work together more effectively. We also know who has trouble meeting up on weekends or who tends to misspell stuff, and being able to appreciate each other’s personal challenges helps us as a team. It also means we know when is a good time to gently poke fun at each other.

I could say more, but I’m conscious that these are specifically from my experiences. I think there are different types of team dynamics that can work. I also don’t think I’ve had enough experience in collaboration. A lot of organisational books or websites about teamwork have probably covered this range of topics!

Early avatars

Thank you Hazirah for taking the time to answer my questions! All the best of luck with the rest of your MA.

imageAbout the Contributor: Kathrina is currently a visiting researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she spends her days thinking very hard about the place of religion in popular fiction. In her free time, she rides the ferries and experiments with cooking seafood. She welcomes advice on any or all of the above topics at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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