Today New Mandala marks its 4th birthday. The recent bloodshed in Thailand and the uncertainties looming over the country leave us in a less than celebratory mood. Nonetheless we mark this modest milestone by paying tribute to our contributors and commentators. You keep us informed, help us to understand, and constantly probe for analytical imperfections and opportunities to add more substance to debates.

At this milestone it is only appropriate that the credit goes to New Mandala’s wide stable of contributors and commentators. This website is much stronger for your input and insights. With your help we have published almost 2500 posts and just shy of 25,000 comments. In recent months things around New Mandala have been picking up speed. April and May 2010 set new benchmarks for traffic and comments, and for concern about Thailand’s future prospects.

As a hub for debate and discussion on social and political matters in mainland Southeast Asia New Mandala has continued to surprise us with its adaptive capacities.

In the beginning we had very modest ambitions for New Mandala, indeed it is fair to say that we weren’t convinced that anybody much would bother to read. An audience of hundreds was, at first, considered a major, and perhaps unrealistic, goal. For those of an archival trawling disposition, New Mandala marked its first, second and third birthdays as those years, and a range of other goals, have ticked by. Those birthday posts give a sense of how things have changed over the years.

The year ahead promises to be even busier and it will, no doubt, generate new challenges and opportunities. For the first time in years we are examining ways to radically improve the reader experience. If everything goes according to plan then in the next 6 months we will pivot in some new and very exciting directions. The recent “Thailand in crisis” vodcast and podcast series is only one of a number of new initiatives that we are developing.

It is also clear that the year ahead, 2010/2011, promises to be a time of considerable flux and contention for the two countries that New Mandala looks at most closely. While Thailand may or may not have elections in its immediate political destiny, it appears very likely that the Burmese generals are about to embark on a newly electoral path for their peculiar dictatorial system.

Of course things can change quickly. People die. Governments are toppled. Consensuses fade. Websites are blocked. Politicians retire. Protests dissolve. Anarchies emerge. Histories are written. Movements radicalise. Technologies change. Optimism is born.

And the Internet hums. New Mandala would not be possible without the support and energy of so many people from around the world.

Closer to home, here at the the Australian National University, we continue to benefit from the interest of our colleagues in the College of Asia and the Pacific. Darrell Burkey and Jude Shanahan, who help with the technical side of things, deserve special mention for their ongoing assistance.

As ever, the next year of New Mandala promises much. We are already looking forward to a big party on 16 June 2011 to celebrate the 5th birthday of our effort to bring you new perspectives on mainland Southeast Asia.