My Writings

I write regularly for, the non-profit environmental platform that I run. The articles are mainly centred around the environmental issues in Malaysia. I also write for newspaper columns occasionally.

For research and academic publications, please check out these other sections, on my studies on CouchSurfing and trust, and my work on blogging and democratization in Malaysia. There’s also my blog on random ramblings that you may want to check out.

Articles in

Here are all my articles written on You can click on any of the articles and they will display within the widget. (Alternatively you can also open the articles in a new window from the button at the top right corner.

Articles in the New Straits Times

2013: Social enterprises may save Earth

2014: Recycling good for us and nature – Originally titled “Recycling as a social endeavour”. The awkward paragraphing is also not mine 😛

2015: People economy for inclusive growth



Building Trust on Electronic-to-face Social Network Sites: Case Study of

This thesis examines the process of trust-building on electronic-to-face Social Network Sites (e2f-SNSs), where users first connect online and then extend the connection to the offline realm. Using as a case study, I investigate how users of an e2f-SNS utilize tools given by the platform to build sufficient trust to initiate face-to-face interactions. is a platform that connects travellers and locals, to match them up for free accommodation offered by the locals. Since most of these connections are fostered between complete strangers, trust issues are salient. How do people manage to achieve the level of trust to host strangers in their homes, or meet strangers in a completely foreign territory? In a pool of potential hosts and guests, how do users choose who to host and who to surf with? What do people look for in the interaction online, to be able to make the decision to make a face-to-face connection?

The research methods that I used are participant observation, interviews and cyber ethnography. Key concepts were synthesized from different disciplines, including the theoretical framework of trust by Möllering (2001, 2006), as well as multiple perspectives on research areas such as Social Network Sites (works by boyd, Ellison, Lampe, Donath, Steinfeld, etc.), subcultural capital (Thornton, 1996), reflexive cosmopolitanism (Kendall, Woodward and Skrbis, 2009), and presentation of self (Goffman, 1959). Analyzing the findings from the field, I first demarcate the niche of e2f-SNSs, and explain their key features that are conducive to building trust: through online profiles, trust mechanisms, a matching system for members to achieve instrumental goals, and a strong virtual community. Because trust is highly contextual and interpretative, I describe the nuances and idiosyncrasies of trust as gleaned from the interview respondents.

The thesis argues that user-to-user trust is built through trustors forming narratives of trustworthiness, from information gathered from the e2f-SNS platform. These narratives are about the potential interactions, in judging the person who is on the other end of the interaction, and the match between the trustor and trustee in an offline setting. The narratives are used to aid the trustors in overcoming irreducible uncertainty and make the leap of faith from online interactions to offline encounters. There are two angles from which I analyze narratives of trustworthiness: the factors that form the narratives, and the strategies that users employ to create and decipher them.

At the macro level, the presence of a metanarrative creates the imagination of a community of trustworthy travellers, and perpetuates the social norms of how members of the community should interact with one another. At the micro level, the narratives are shaped through individual, idiosyncratic perceptions of risk and expected outcomes of the interactions. On e2f-SNSs, users are offered an array of features and tools to build the narratives, through sending and interpreting signals of purposeful presentation of self. Through impression management in a way that reflects traits deemed important by the community, users accumulate subcultural capital in embodied and objectified forms, so that they come across as trustworthy members of the community who understand the rules of engagement. Trustees manage their impression to help trustors build favourable narratives, while trustors gather information to form an impression of the trustees to decide whether they should meet or not.

In 2008, at the commencement of my research, had about 500,000 members; in 2013 it has close to 6 million members, an increment of more than tenfold. Within these five years, underwent a drastic transformation. In the thesis, I document the development of events as it unfolded, from the days of a strong community and vibrant volunteering culture, to beyond CouchSurfing International’s conversion to a for-profit organization. I found that most CouchSurfing members were relatively impervious towards the alleged trust violations and controversies of CouchSurfing International at first, although there were expressions of dissent from a group of active members. However, the change of direction of the organization towards a focus on activities and events (i.e. taking the emphasis off hosting and surfing) and a rapid expansion of member base slowly diluted the strong metanarrative. Subsequent technical changes implemented on the forums and matching system adversely affected the trust-building processes, by disrupting the virtual community and its generation of social norms, and upsetting the host/surfer dynamics.

This study will benefit the field of social media studies that focus on hybrid online/offline communities, and studies of interpersonal trust online. Through first explaining how trust is built, and then demonstrating the real world implications when these processes are disrupted, I argue that the success of an e2f-SNS depends on its technological affordances to facilitate the building of narratives of trustworthiness. This can be accomplished through capturing the essence of the community and propagating its metanarrative, and supporting the users’ creation of narratives through distilling relevant information of their expectations and circumstances. The e2f-SNS succeeds when it is able to build trust and make good matches between users for a satisfactory offline experience.

Image credits go to

The thesis is 205 pages long, and contains 7 chapters. It would be interesting for people who are interested in the issues of trust-building in social media, online/offline communication, online communities, and Couchsurfing.

Notably, there is an entire chapter documenting the history of CouchSurfing, from its inception to its conversion to a for-profit organization, and related controversies. It is the first academic account of the fascinating history of CS and covers the early days, the age of the volunteers, the conversion to a for-profit organization, and an eventual mainstreaming beyond the conversion. A lot has changed since I ended the research, but I believe that this will be interesting to those who want to understand the subculture of CouchSurfing and how it evolved to what it is today.

You may want to look at the Table of Contents for an overview before you download the thesis.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.This means that you are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit) the thesis, under the following conditions:

  1. You must attribute the work to me in a citation, or include a link to this page.
  2. You may not use the work for any commercial purposes.
  3. You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

Download Thesis

Please contact me if you'd like to have the fulltext of these articles.

Tan, J.-E. (2013). “Performing Cosmopolitanism as Subcultural Capital: A Macro-level View of Trust on”. In S. Buchberger & D. Picard (Eds.), CouchSurfing Cosmopolitanisms: Can Tourism Make a Better World? Surrey: Ashgate.

Tan, J.-E. (2010). “The Leap of Faith from Online to Offline: An Exploratory Study of”. In A. Acquisti, S. Smith & A.-R.Sadeghi (Eds.), Trust and Trustworthy Computing (Vol. 6101, pp. 367-380): Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.


Blogging and Democratization of Malaysia: A Civil Society in The Making

Blogging And Democratization

This book was published in 2008 right after the 12th General Election of Malaysia, when spirits were still high about socio-political blogging as the last frontier of freedom of expression in Malaysia. Things have changed quite a bit since then. I don't expect the bookshops to carry the books nowadays since it's been a while, though once in a while I stumble upon the book in a library and feel secretly pleased. I still have some copies lying around at home that you can contact me for, if you want to purchase the book (RM25), for academic or for nostalgic purposes.

Here's an old blog that I used to house the research.

Here are the commentaries on the backcover by notable Malaysian academics.

Zaharom Nain, Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia:

Before the 12th Malaysian General Election, bloggers were called numerous, often unflattering, names by Malaysian government officials and other unsavoury charaters. Virtually immediately after the election results, they were hailed by many, including the same unsavoury characters, as "key players" and "prime movers". Some have even gone so far as to blame the dismal election performance of the Barisan Nasional on bloggers and blogging.
Amidst all this, and the post-March 8 hype, this original, well-researched and very readable volume by upcoming Malaysian scholar, Jun-E Tan and renowned and committed social anthropologist, Zawawi Ibrahim, provides a necessary resource for those who wish to understand Malaysian blogging more comprehensively within a wider socio-political context. This volume is certainly necessary reading for Malaysians who wish to understand how the new media may or may not be able to contribute to the expansion of democratic space. And it really ought to be compulsory reading for the unsavoury characters who still refuse to understand where Malaysia is heading."

Azmi Sharom, Faculty of Law, University of Malaya:

Jun-E Tan and Zawawi Ibrahim have written a most timely (and readable) book. The blogging phenomenon has been credited with playing an important part in the historic results of the 2008 General Election. It has also been lauded with the democratization of Malaysian public life in general. Here the authors have put together hard data coupled with interesting interviews with the main players to bring the discussion of blogs out of the realm of punditry and the anecdotal into a more studied empirical sociological sphere. For that, it is a significant work which hopefully would pave the way for similar efforts at studying the impact of new technologies on democracy in Malaysia.

The research on bloggers in Malaysia was a pioneering one and hence it received some media attention, most of which are obsolete by now. The interview by Radio Singapore International for instance seems to be forever lost as the radio station seems to have closed down. I was also interviewed by German newspaper Frankfurter AllgemeineZeitung.

Here is a cover piece by Forward Magazine (which also seems to have folded). Click on images to enlarge.