Michael Turton was seeing too many reporters parachute into Taiwan and write what he felt were slanted, ill-informed stories. He had enough of "Beijing propaganda" and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT, 國民黨) "handlers" framing the debate for Western media discourse on Taiwan.
So the 43-year-old university lecturer, who has a master's degree in international affairs, started the closest thing Taiwan has to an A-list English-language blog. His comments on the country's life and politics (michaelturton.blogspot.com) are widely read by journalists, and several of his posts have featured prominently on DailyKos.com, the largest Democratic Party-leaning blog in the US.
"I like to see myself as presenting sides of Taiwan that most people ordinarily wouldn't interact with, especially overseas," Turton said. His Web presence has earned him a small degree of fame and notoriety that, in his words, "reflects a tremendous hunger for knowledge about Taiwan that's going unfulfilled in the traditional media."
When Turton started posting in 1996, he was aware of only two or three Taiwan-related Web sites run by Western residents, an estimate other foreigners in the Web community confirmed. Now Turton's page alone links to dozens of such sites. Most are blogs that generate several to a hundred or so hits per day through personal musings on life in general, or commentary on specific topics such as food or politics.
A few are much larger. Community forum Forumosa.com has 10,400 registered users and averages between 600 and 800 new posts per day, said Anthony van Dyck, an administrator. Two expat-owned bilingual entertainment Web sites not linked to by Turton, Taiwan Fun (www.taiwanfun.com) and Taiwan Nights (www.taiwannights.com), are businesses that compete directly with mainstream media outlets.
"We make money off of it. Not a huge amount, but we do make money off of it," said Taiwan Fun co-owner Courtney Donovan Smith, who also owns GCT Taiwan, a search engine optimization firm.
According to rankings on Alexa.com, which tracks Web site traffic, over the past six months Taiwan Fun has enjoyed a greater daily reach than sites for Chinese-language city guide Taipei Walker (www.walkersnet.com.tw) and English-language daily the China Post (www.chinapost.com.tw). With the exception of November, it also beat out popular Chinese-language site Street Voice (www.streetvoice.com.tw). Last month, Taiwanfun.com had 371,000 unique IP visits. More than half of these visits, Smith estimates, were made by Taiwanese women between the ages of 20 and 35.
Taiwan Nights has yet to achieve that kind of reach, but business partners Reese Richards and Bernard Pol, who also run sites like 24seven, have ambitious plans. Early this spring they plan to launch iTaiwan, which will consolidate their Web presence under a single portal.
"We want it to be a Yahoo for Taiwan," Richards said. "Everything that you need to know about Taiwan will be found on this site."
Another commercial venture is Taiwanted, owned by administrators at Forumosa. Taiwanted.com will in two weeks replace Forumosa's free classifieds section, which last month averaged 3,000 daily page views and has doubled its traffic and advertising content in two months. The site will earn revenue from employment ads.
"Until now a lot of [online] classifieds have not been so simple to go through," said Forumosa administrator Malcolm Higgins, who also runs Taiwanho.com. Taiwanease will offer a "friendly user experience" where it's "easy to find stuff, easy to post ads, and easy to respond."