What's Your Bali Style? Indonesia Gets Its Own Version of 'BuzzFeed'

Launched last year by four friends, the site aims to change people's perceptions of the country with share-worthy listicles, photos, and stories.

(Photo: WowShack)

Apr 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

Twenty-five photos of Komodo dragons being awesome; sexy, vintage Mad Men–style pinup ads of Indonesia’s motorcycle industry; 22 things you'll only experience on Indonesian roads; and the discovery of a 20,000-year-old volcano.

These are just a sampling of the kinds of stories you’ll find on WowShack, Indonesia’s version of BuzzFeed, which has taken the world’s largest archipelago by storm. Launched last November by four 23-year olds who grew up and went to high school in the capital city, Jakarta, the site already boasts numbers that are climbing at an impressive rate: 750,000 unique visitors per month by mid-December and one million as of Jan. 2015.

“We initially launched the website for fun,” say the founders, who wish to remain anonymous because they currently have jobs in unrelated fields. “But now that people are really taking an interest, we see it as an opportunity and as somewhat of a responsibility to inform the rest of the world about how interesting and intriguing Indonesia is.”

Given the country's Internet usage stats, WowShack's potential to reach a broad audience of young, savvy media consumers could be staggering. There are currently 73 million Internet users in Indonesia, according to the country’s communications and information ministry. More than half are between the ages of 12 and 34 and as many as 62 million users are active on social media. (Twitter is so popular in the country, the social media giant recently opened up an office in Jakarta.)

WowShack’s founders say they aren’t surprised by the site’s success because there’s nothing like it in Indonesia, and because the country is “so diverse, so beautiful, so crazy, and so not like anywhere else in the world.”

Amir Karimuddin, editor of Indonesian tech blog DailySocial, has been following the site's progress and agrees.

WowShack may become popular in Indonesia because it contains some refreshing information about our own country, even some that I didn't know about, written in fine English," he says. “Many people have been calling WowShack Indonesia's version of BuzzFeed, but I think WowShack has nailed it by presenting things in a native Indonesian way, without bashing people and being too judgmental.”

Technically speaking, WowShack’s simple layout and functionality caters to the country’s fragile Internet network. “The site is very clean, has minimum ads, and loads without any problem with most of our average Internet connections,” says Karimuddin. WowShack also specifically has a mobile-friendly design—a smart move, as the communications ministry reports that up to 52 million social media users in the country go online via their mobile devices for an average of three hours per day.

“Indonesians with access to the Internet are very active on social media and love sharing new information with friends,” say WowShack’s founders. “And as a country, our digital landscape is just getting bigger.”

Despite these figures, only about 29 percent of the total population of Indonesia's 250 million have access to the Internet. According to research firm eMarketer, there will be 112 million Internet users in Indonesia by 2017.

One 'WowShack' article is headlined "23 of the Best Places in Indonesia to Relax and Switch Off." (Photo: 'WowShack'/Instagram)

Delivering reliable Internet to the world’s largest chain of islands—where much of the country’s rural poor can neither afford nor access the Internet—is no easy task. That’s why the government of Indonesia recently enlisted the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development to invest $23 billion in a five-year National Broadband Plan, launched last October, that will help deliver Internet access to underserved areas of the country. The plan involves building a high-capacity fiber-optic cable network, developing low-cost wireless technologies—including delivering it through unused television frequencies—and creating incentives for private-sector companies by allowing free use of broadband frequencies. Indeed, given Indonesia's untapped online potential, companies such as Cisco, Google, Intel, and Microsoft are all looking to expand operations in the country.

Meanwhile, similar to the founders of BuzzFeed, WowShack’s founders have no media or journalism experience—just a sense of fun and an eye for what’s interesting to people.

“There really isn’t a set formula for producing a viral article,” they say. “We just focus on delivering content that is interesting, shareable, or newsworthy.”

As for future plans?

“No serious future plans," they say. “Just to keep writing articles about the country we love and to share that love with others.”

Another story from 'WowShack': "22 Cleanest Waters in the World You Have to Swim in Before You Die." (Photo: 'WowShack'/Instagram)