There’s something so secretive about bloggers. They seem to bring to light everyone and everything except themselves. If you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of them at events, but even then, they exude an aura of mystique. If you happened to blink and miss a blogger, the best you can do is what I did: interview one! Everyone knows Kuwait UpTo Date, a blog that provides information about everything from cultural events to fires around town. The founder seems to be here, there, everywhere. His finger is on the pulse of cultural activities and happenings at all the times. So, we may be acquainted with the aptly titled blog, but very few of us know anything about the man behind the blog- Usman Choudhry.
Your Facebook page alone has more than 850,000 followers. That is absolutely phenomenal! How do people hear about your blog? Is it through advertising or word of mouth?
First of all, I would like to thank bazaar for this opportunity. Two years ago, I began reading it at Al-Kout’s Starbucks, but I never thought to see myself in it one day.
This question is something I am supposed to ask you! How did you hear about my blog? Initially, people hear of it through “word of mouth,” but my passion for photography also helped me get exposure at events. In addition, after an interview on Radio 99.7 FM, the number of followers jumped. And, now, being interviewed for bazaar will also help my blog. I must mention to fellow bloggers that various social media platforms also keep your blog on top if the content is rich and unique. On the other hand, I believe that there was a niche in the Kuwait market to have a social platform that both promotes events and adds other news at the same time, so I injected myself into this space. I would like to add that – so far – the Kuwait UpTo Date section of “Events in Kuwait” has a high ranking in the Google search engine for promoting upcoming cultural, educational and entertainment events schedules in Kuwait. This is also a bonus for the blog.
For many people residing in town, you are the go-to person for information, locally. Do you feel constant pressure to keep us “up to date?”
When people start expecting a lot from you, then there is a build-up of constant pressure. Sometimes, it affects your personal and professional life. But, luckily, I am a supportive and cooperative fellow, both at home and at the office. Still, I sometimes have to face my mom’s 2000-watt scolding along with the angry stares of my boss when I fail to keep a balance between being a blogger, a son or an employee.
Regarding information, KUD is based on the idea to “keep updating and to stay updated.” So I am grateful for the contribution of the hundreds of kind people in Kuwait who believe in keeping people updated and aware – in order to make them understand the people, culture, market and environment.
With such a cult following, you must have pranksters bombarding you with phone calls. How do you verify the news that is sent to you?
Firebrands and pranksters have always been a part of any audience whether it be a huge gathering of people or on an online social platform. You find them at schools and sometimes at work, too, but ultimately you learn a lot through their pranks so it teaches you how to handle them. Now, as an administrator for the blog, it has become a routine job to handle such phone calls and messages; but I never argue with them and I always accept their reports graciously and thank them. This is the best solution to face them.
Regarding news verification, this is more sensitive. Sometimes, different individuals can report news without any cause for concern since they are documenting public events. However, other news items require official references and permission to be published, so I have to be extra careful.
How do you deal with vicious comments – either regarding your content or among readers themselves?
Oh God. Most of my time was previously spent deleting or blocking Iniquitous comments and warning commentators. It averaged around 150 to 200 people per day. But now, Facebook and certain websites have tools that have made it easy to apply filters to hide such comments. I still contact them afterwards, to request that they avoid irrelevant and vicious comments as they lead to unnecessary quarrels in the comments section. Sometimes, irrelevant messages and comments make my day – such as this message: “Oh Admin, I like and appreciate all of your posts but sometimes I feel that you should get married. Then you can enjoy all the road fires and accidents from your home only instead of on the roads.” ☺
Apart from the vicious comments and time constraints, it still must be such a rewarding experience to keep people abreast of what is happening. When did you decide to become a blogger? And how did the idea of Kuwait UpTo Date, specifically, manifest itself?
It had always been my dream since schooldays to either be involved with a media company or to be a blogger; however, I graduated and was led to commerce and accounting. My brother told me that I could follow my dream after university, but all my dreams vanished when I graduated.
Then, at the end of 2011, my hopes were revived and Kuwait UpTo Date was born. It was another phase of my life, holding a Smartphone and a DSLR to make my dream come true. I began highlighting interesting activities in Kuwait via social media alongside my actual job as a banker.
You hail from Pakistan, but have lived here for some time. Was it easy to become a part of Kuwait mainstream culture?
Well, being a Muslim, we are a part of each other. But, yes, you take time to adapt to the culture, especially the climate. The majority of people living in Kuwait are expatriates, so in most working environments and residential areas you will not find cultural elements unique to Kuwait around you. That is why it was a little difficult to identify the typical culture of Kuwait along with the traditional events, but so far it has been a good experience.
This summer, you were awarded a Shield of Appreciation by the PBC – which was presented to you by the Ambassador of Pakistan. Can you tell us more about this extraordinary achievement?
Yes, that was a very exciting moment. I have been awarded and appreciated by different communities in Kuwait many times before, but frankly, this time the cheers and the clapping made it unique, alhamdulillah.
Finally, do you have any advice for would-be bloggers?
This is something you can start irrespective of your profession, but you need to divide your time wisely in terms of your profession, other life activities and domestic responsibilities in order to avoid any irrecoverable loss. As a blogger, you get an opportunity to express your opinions with a large number of readers, but – as per my experience – a single person in this large audience can place you in big trouble due to a small mistake. So a blogger needs to be careful with the content, and must avoid governmental and religious issues. Be patient, unique, and remember that you are responsible for your blog, so respect others’ content and rights.
Usman Choudhry works as a banker for Kuwait Finance House and counts photography as a hobby. You can follow him on Instagram @kuwaituptodate, follow his Facebook page: Kuwait UPTO DATE, or check out his website www.kuwaitup2date.com.