You simply cannot speak of Caribbean social media and not mention Georgia Popplewell. In 2005 she started the Caribbean’s first podcast, Caribbean Free Radio. Though no longer a blogger, since 2008 she has been the Managing Director of Global Voices, an international community of writers, translators, and digital activists that report on trending dialogues amongst the virtual everyman and developments in freedom of expression, rights, and policy for the online community. Global Voices has become one of the most influential citizen media projects in the world and this Caribbean daughter is at its heart.
Popplewell is at times still awed by the various capabilities granted by the Internet but laments the “lessening of the ethos of amateurism and an impetus for people to create and support more open, transparent alternatives to platforms like Facebook”.
For her, “corporate control and government interference online are increasing—in the latter both in the form of surveillance, censorship, and the silencing of dissent by the obviously ‘bad’ states as well as in the form of poorly designed cybercrime laws, covert spying on citizens, etc.
“People need to be aware of what’s going on and push back when they can.”
But for her there’s more to life than what’s online. She has been a TV producer since the late 1980s and has gone back to that early discipline.
“Lately I’ve been carving out more offline time to read, to write, to make physical objects,” she told Caribbean Insight Magazine.
“In the past couple of years, for instance, I’ve kickstarted my filmmaking career and am currently co-writing a feature film script, which has been great.”
Even though she was born in the UK, Odessa Chambers is Jamaican by blood and, for her, the Caribbean is where it’s at. This blogger has been a producer and an aspiring media mogul. She was one of the founding members of the first major Jamaican culture and ‘edu-tainment’ television channels with major players in the Jamaican industry such as Trevor Bailey, Ras Kassa, and Nadia Rose. The channel, O-Access, is her baby.
“After taking a break from my job as a Talent PA to Tyra Banks and the other judges at America’s Next Top Model, I decided to start my own blog and that’s how O-Access Jamaica got started. It’s just taken off.” she said.
The site—featuring Caribbean lifestyle, entertainment, and travel—has now transcended the blogosphere to become a media brand with multiple avenues granting global access to the Caribbean. Chambers strives to give positive reflections of the African Diaspora to its people and the world at large; she is passionate about black business.
“We don’t really have a Huffington Post of the Caribbean and we need that,” she said, “something that speaks to us as Caribbean people.”
It will require investment and there Chambers is particular. “I prefer to be sponsored by black-owned businesses or persons of African/ Caribbean ancestry who understand the passion behind why we do what we do.”
Her desire to create links and give context to Afro-Caribbean people has resulted in various ventures including radio collaborations in the UK and in Orlando, Florida. As of this writing, she appears on Island Fever with Candice Bucannan every Saturday at 4.30pm EST on 98.5 FM Orlando.
Her goal was to create a more inclusive space dedicated to pushing the Caribbean fashion and style conversation. When Mel Gabriel made headlines in the Huffington Post as a Caribbean blogger, they described her as “one of the most influential bloggers and webmasters in the region”, and she knew she was on her way to being just that.
“Lookbook started with a mindset of celebrating personal style, and using well-dressed persons as a guide for those needing some direction. We were only a blog for about ten months before it transitioned into an online magazine.” she said.
“My role now is more curatorial, as we believe in highlighting the best the Caribbean has to offer. Today’s Lookbook acts as a marketing platform for designers and lifestyle brands; and a conduit for these brands to be identified and accessed by international buyers and stylists.”
With her passion for fashion, one may be surprised to know she’s almost always in jeans or something oversized, a luxury of working from home. But when she does feel to be a little bit extra, she said,
“I have this lightweight lounge dress from The Cloth. Perfect for floating around the house—especially in this heat. Robert Young is the quintessential Caribbean designer. I love him.”
Afra Raymond’s site A Thinking Man’s Blog isn’t the usual written fare when one thinks of popular Caribbean blogs. Raymond takes the powers-that-be to task and he has the accolades to do it.
A chartered surveyor, he served a five-year presidential term at the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC).
“I started the blog in August 2009 as a repository for my published work. I was looking to highlight the approach of analysing not just the thing but the meaning of the thing. We have virtually stopped critical thinking insofar as public policy is concerned and the flattening of the mediasphere means that everyone has a voice.”
Information is at the very foundation of the free market and, of course, today’s world is virtually ruled by marketers. Raymond thinks that the inner irony is that the most successful companies can leverage their information for the benefit of their people while at the same time getting a peek at everyone else’s. “Such is the deep, inner paradox at the heart of the free market,” he said.
But is the Caribbean fully harnessing the people power brought about by the digital age? Raymond thinks not.
“We are at best a colossal chasm in the information age. Everyone has a smartphone and we can access unimaginable quantities and qualities of info like at no previous time in human history, yet our governments engage in serial concealment of public records, accounts, statistics, policies etc.
“The (Trinidad and Tobago) National Land Policy (1992) and the National Housing Policy (2002) do not appear on any official website. The Housing Ministry just relaunched its website which was promised to have all the relevant policies and info etc, but the Housing Policy is not there. For whatever reason, those important policies have been rusticated from official view and this is because those policies are routinely, officially violated.”
Of course, you can see both policies at afraraymond.net.
You get exposed to tech and the Internet at an early age when your sister and brother-in-law start one of the first Jamaican ISPs, Jamaica Online. When the Jamaica Observer, where Ingrid Riley worked as a journalist, outfitted their departments with Mac computers and became one of the first companies to have full-scale Internet usage on the island, she often stayed back after hours to scour the Internet.
Now, years later, she is a certified media strategist and owns SiliconCaribe, a successful blog-turned-tech media and events company that has been chronicling and showcasing how the Caribbean does tech since 2007.
“Our aim is to identify, celebrate, and connect the people and businesses that leverage technology to innovate the way we as Caribbean people live work and play.” she said. The company also hosts the largest social events and conferences for tech professionals in the region.
According to her, the digital world has evened the playing field. There are number of years of leverage ahead for Caribbean blogging platforms as media outlets clamour for increased valuation and validation of Caribbean content which is our unique and marketable commodity. No longer must one “go and come back”—migrate and return—to be a valid player in their chosen field.
“Where you are is null and void now. You can work in the shade of your island with a drink in hand and still forward your career.”
Having just launched the television program This Week in Caribbean Tech, a show that looks at the latest trends in technology and digital media in the Caribbean it should be time to relax. Not for Riley.
“I’m very excited about our next project. It’s a Caribbean Women in Tech podcast series which will expand the narrative of the females in all levels of the field.”