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A Brief History of The Apakabar List

By John MacDougall

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The 'apakabar' database is a unique resource in Indonesian studies. Consisting of about 175,000 postings to moderated lists in Indonesian and English spanning the period October 1990 to February 2002, it was collectively given the name 'apakabar' by Indonesians in line with the email address of the lists' moderator, John A. MacDougall. The early 1990s postings, mainly news and documentation, were carried in a newsgroup on a proprietary American Internet service provider, the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), an English-language activist network. Indonesian students studying overseas who subscribed to the then two largest Indonesian-language lists, Isnet and Janus, were sent copies of these postings on a routine basis as a means of keeping them informed on events at home.

When the Internet arrived in Indonesia and IGC acquired list technology of its own, the newsgroup was converted to an independent public list. This resulted in a dramatic expansion of readership, especially among Indonesians living in Indonesia who soon comprised the vast majority of readers. Just as quickly, the dominant language of postings changed from English to Indonesian. The content of postings also changed from mainly news to mainly exchanges of opinion among Indonesians at home and in Indonesian communities abroad. The explicit policy of the list was deemed pluralism, a codeword for the free expression Indonesians did not then enjoy in their own country.

Subscriptions to the independent list soon outgrew the capacity of the list software and IGC server capacity. The list moderator then moved the entire enterprise to a commercial host, Esosoft, and created a moderated Web list site at, which could be accessed anytime by a far larger audience. In this phase, many Indonesian non-governmental organizations and journalists joined in as active posters, presenting messages and articles which could not get a hearing in Indonesia except at great personal risk. Anonymity was extended by the moderator to all who requested it. The 'apakabar' list grew to become by far the largest Indonesian list in the history of the Internet, reaching 250,000 readers in 96 countries before it finally closed.

List postings often were reproduced in print in Indonesia and distributed to all social strata, extending the list's reach well beyond predominantly middle class Indonesian Internet users. The spread of Internet cafes and kiosks also contributed to this expanded reach in the last years of the list.

The 'apakabar' database, searchable in Indonesian and English, contains the complete set of postings to the list in its various incarnations over its lifespan. It also contains complete sets of postings to nine other Indonesia-related lists run by the moderator on the site as a means of advancing Indonesian studies throughout the world.

The site, always free to users, was funded by profits by the moderator's periodicals business, Indonesia Publications. By early 2002, the expense of maintaining the site had grown too great and the lists there closed solely for financial reasons. The site has now been converted by the long-time list moderator to a research and learning site on Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world.

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