Author Archive

Journaling the Irish Tech Landscape – Interviewing John Kennedy

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

John Kennedy is Senior Reporter with Silicon Republic and is the winner of the 2005 Technology Journalist Net Visonary Award. For a change he was the one being asked questions.


Firstly congratulations on being nominated and winning. What’s it like to be nominated and then to win?

Well, I had been nominated for three years in a row, so at least twice I knew what it was like to be nominated and not win. This time round it was third time lucky and winning the award has given me enormous satisfaction. The other little known fact is that it was three years ago in the same month (November) that siliconrepublic.com was started so I think the timing was just right. The website was started at least a full year after the technology downturn gained momentum and at least a full year before any green chutes of growth returned to the sector. At the time anything internet or dot.com related was generally given wide berth so it felt like a massive leap of fate. Three years in and I think winning the award is a major vote of confidence in the work we’ve done. Long may it continue.

Can you give a brief outline of your history in journalism? How did you get into tech journalism?

Just like 90pc of technology writers, I fell into it. I began in journalism by throwing the odd piece into my local paper – The Meath Chronicle – for free just to get enough bylines to be taken seriously by news editors whilst I was in college. I also supplemented by income by doing weekend shifts at Atlantic 252 as a spinner, basically working the sound desk and keeping the music and ads running from 12am to 7am . After graduating in 1993 I freelanced for papers like the Evening Herald and Irish Independent, including doing stints as a court reporter (200 words per minute shorthand, invaluable!). This was before email and the internet were commonplace so I had to submit stories by hand writing them into a notebook, finding a payphone, reversing the charges and dictating the story to a copytaker up in the big smoke.

No matter how busy I was I found it difficult to keep in funds so decided to look around for something more permanent. An opportunity came up at Computer Publications Group (now MediaTeam) and within a few weeks I was editing an electronics magazine called Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT) and a pharmaceutical industry magazine called Irish Chemical and Processing Journal. My role then evolved to include writing for Irish Computer and editing Communications Today magazine. After four years with CPG I was headhunted to join Business & Finance as their technology editor, where I spent a further four years, particularly honing in my news skills.

It was a fantastic time to cover technology because Iona had just floated and there was a fantastic buzz about the internet and mobile, which unfortunately morphed into the dot.com frenzy and the subsequent downturn. After Business & Finance I freelanced with titles like the Sunday Independent and Business Plus before being approached to join Silicon Republic (then known as News Connected).

There’s been a huge amount of talk about mainstream media or traditional media being wiped out with online journalism and citizen journalism. Rupert Murdoch surprisingly has sent out a few warnings that not embracing the online world is going to be death to traditional media and he’s launched into buying up MySpace.com and a few other online outlets and making his newspaper sites more interactive. What are your own thoughts on the future of journalism? What do you see happening with journalism in the next few years?

The human infatuation with sharing knowledge is fascinating and always evolving. In the space of a decade the internet and mobile communications and the fusing of these worlds has been revolutionary. Everything from email to chatrooms, bulletin boards and voice over IP is having an effect on our lives that is hard to appreciate because we’re still within this evolution. Journalism is one field that has felt this revolution keenly. The speed of information, access to data, it’s incredible. If anything I think the field of journalism is getting more exciting but also more complex.

Are professional journalists going to have to compete with examples of citizen journalism? I don’t think so because while everyone may have an opinion and share information you still need professionals to shape and mould information and give it credibility and balance. If anything because of the volumes of information people will be looking for standards of writing and reporting they can trust. Truth and confidence in those that disseminate accurate information will matter more and more. I think professional journalism and citizen journalism can happily co-exist provided it is obvious which is which.

Pictures taken by camera phone in the aftermath of the London bombings during the summer were splashed all over the front pages of the world’s newspapers illustrate this. The simple truth is that there will be more and more information to sift through and absorb – plus more and more streams such as sound, video as well as text – and I think in the years ahead journalists will have to be increasingly tech savvy and capable of making sense of it all ensuring they have provide fair, balanced and accurate information.

You’ve interviewed quite a few people over the years, who would be your ideal interviewee, tech or non-tech?

After twelve years there are so many people that I enjoyed interviewing, such as Michael O’Leary and Esther Dyson and I’ve attended round table meetings with John Chambers, Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer and lectures by Bill Gates. There are plenty of people I’ve yet to interview. On the technology side I’d love to have 10 minutes to chat with Steve Jobs of Apple and Intel’s current CEO Paul Otellini. On the non-tech side I’m nauseated by celebrity culture and the insularity that comes out of out of control materialism, but fascinated by life’s heroes and heroines; Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader jailed by the military junta would be top of my list. Her courage and tenacity is inspiring.

You monitor and watch the tech world in Ireland and abroad as part of your job, what do you see are the emerging trends in both the Irish tech industry and the global tech industry?

Emerging trends – I’d love to see podcasting gain greater acceptance, the democracy of the internet is inspiring because now anyone with the inclination can host their own radio show, it’s cool. Predictions: PC penetration in Ireland will not budge beyond 37pc unless people can be reminded of compelling reasons to have a computer in their homes (I can think of one – education!); mobile penetration, if not in 12 months, but definitely 18 months we could move beyond 100pc (in the UK I believe they’re at 107pc); broadband will grow but I’d be conservative about us getting to 300,000 by the end of 2006, let reach 600,000.

I would hope that the advent of the Xbox 360 might nudge up broadband demand but let’s wait and see. I would also hope that finally business people in the regions would be able to distinguish between ISDN and real broadband. Globally, hype about triple play and even quad play services over broadband (by cable and by wireless) will continue unabated and I expect to see the onset of set top boxes with built-in Wi-Fi radios. On the business side of technology I reckon web service-based distribution of software and services will become more viable because of increasing broadband adoption.

Staying on podcasting, they’re starting to emerge here in Ireland. You yourself have taken part in one the Ireland Digital podcasts, even RTE is starting to get into them do you think podcasts are going to come into play more and more. Are they a fad or will they become mainstream?

As I said earlier I’m a fan of what’s possible and I think their popularity can only grow. I can’t see them going mainstream in Ireland any time soon because of poor PC and broadband penetration. Hopefully that will change. But places like New York and San Francisco they will no doubt be very popular, but only among tech savvy people. I think they will continue to be community-driven in terms of genres and subjects they cover. But the democracy of what they enable – an amateur broadcaster with the right kit can put together radio-like programmes for like-minded people on any subject they wish. I think the area is also fraught with hidden dangers in terms of libel and licensing and these issues need to be explored.

2005 is almost drawing to a close, what for you have been the big tech stories of the year?

Without a doubt the PPARS debacle was the big one. Interesting merger and acquisition activity such as NTL being acquired by UGC and Eircom’s acquisition of Meteor were also particularly interesting. Smart’s win of the 3G license in recent weeks is possibly the smartest thing (no pun intended) they’ve done but could be stymied if Meteor sends in the barristers (kind of ironic, eh?).

Is there still a Celtic Tiger in the tech industry in Ireland? Do you think the industry in Ireland is invested in enough? Should the Government be investing more into indigenous Irish businesses?

I feel like retching every time I hear that Celtic Tiger phrase and I banish it from articles in print or online. I think the technology industry in Ireland is performing admirably as a whole but I am concerned about how small Irish indigenous software companies are doing and the lack of supports available to them to help them grow. There’s no joined-up thinking at Government level and while there’s evidence of a significant surge in entrepreneurial actvitiy, the very act of setting up a business in Ireland and getting it off the ground looks frustrating and lonely.

I sometimes marvel at the kind of supports available to Northern Ireland companies through Invest NI and the joined up thinking that fosters academic and industry collaboration in the North. Enterprise Ireland’s CEO Frank Ryan has, however, unveiled a strong strategy that could see indigenous firms turn a corner and become bigger, internationalized players. There is no reason why some day Ireland should not field firms to the scale of Nokia or Ericsson. That’s not going to happen unless the Government buys more from local companies, however.

How do you source material, are blogs coming into play more on hunting for information? John Collins and Karlin Lillington are two tech journalists that blog, do you see yourself blogging in the future? What’s your opinion of blogs?

A journalist never reveals his sources! I think the best way of gathering information is to make yourself amenable to listening to people. I’m always open to meeting new companies and hearing new things. The most important weapon in any journalist’s armoury is the willingness to listen and observe. On the blog front, as well as newspapers and magazines, because I write every day for a news website I feel it’s as good as having a blog. It’s updated every day and I put a lot of work into the stories I tell.

I like to let the stories speak for themselves; the job of a journalist is to be fair and balanced . . . impartial. In the last six months I’ve become more and more interested in reading other people’s blogs and marvel at the work they put into them. But, there’s also a tendency for people to start publishing blogs and not keeping them up to date and that’s not good. It defeats the purpose. If you’re going to do a blog, keep it up to date and interesting. I’d never say never to the idea of doing a blog in the future, but time is a factor.

You report on technology every day, are you a hoarder of gadgets yourself? Got mp3 players, digital cameras, smart phones?

I won an iPod in a raffle about a year ago but I think the battery’s about to go. I’m a big fan of what’s useful and ingenious so I’ve got a smart phone that synchs nicely with my Outlook for email, contacts and calendar information. I’m about to do a review of a clever GPS module that you plug into the USB port on your laptop which will be interesting … I’ll keep you posted.

So what next after the Net Visionary? What’s the next award you’ll be going after? Do you see yourself staying in the journalism for the long-term or would you see yourself moving into another area like PR which many journalists do.

I don’t think there are any other awards for technology journalism in Ireland so this one will have to do. I really love what I do and feel nothing but enthusiasm for technology and the business of technology in terms of the companies, the individuals and what they’re trying to achieve. If anything, it’s getting more interesting by the day. I had a conversation with Karlin Lillington at a party recently and it dawned on me mid-flow that I’ve been occupying a front row seat for what has probably been the biggest cultural revolution to hit the world since the introduction of the printing press. I really can’t see myself doing anything else.


You can read John Kennedy’s work on Silicon Republic.

“You can take the spoons but we’re keeping the knives and forks”

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

No, not a really bitchy divorce or couple splitting thing but something I heard and witnessed going through Dublin Airport this evening on the way back from a fantastic Digital Rights Ireland launch. In fairness the dumbass woman thought she could bring a 20pc cutlery set on to the plane.

Airport security in Dublin is to be blunt FUCKING STUPID. They make you take off belts, shoes, jackets, watches and dump everything from your pockets and fuck them all into one tray. Yes, stinking shoes put next to your suit jacket and in their somewhere is your rolex and mobile. Then you walk through and wait 5 mins for your shoes to arrive at the other side. Then the little hitlers bitch at you for not moving away. “Move along please you’re causing congestion”. Sorry, can I get my fucking shoes and tie my laces, grab my watch from the tray in the middle of the scrum and pour my loose change back into my hand? Dickheads.

Bruce Schneier defines this as “security theater”, it is ineffectual and designed to make us feel safer without being safer. I don’t feel safer that some pignoramus (woot, my new word) gets his thrills from smelling reeking feet and fantasising about putting people into cattle trains.

Quoting me quoting you

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Hehe. I love it when I make smart arsed comments.

The Forfás report makes disappointing reading says IrelandOffline spokesman Damien Mulley: “This report is one Christmas present that Santa can keep. 2005 has been an annus horribilis for broadband in Ireland. Last year we looked towards 2005, hopeful it would be a good year but after court cases and immense stalling we seem to be even further away from the [Communications] Minister’s conservative target of 500,000 connections.

A new Net visioned he – Interview with John Breslin

Monday, December 5th, 2005

John Breslin recently won the Net Visionary award for social contribution, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about it and a whole lot more. This is a long interview. Stick on the kettle and make a cuppa before reading.

So, what was it like winning the Net Visionary?

It was really a big surprise. To be honest, even though I knew I had a certain advantage in terms of people voting for me (it’s that bit easier to get votes with a community like boards.ie behind you), I didn’t expect to win as I thought that the jury would look at last year’s winner (Tom Murphy) and decide to ‘spread the awards around’. But I am absolutely delighted, and even though boards.ie is my main community project, I also see this award as an incentive to develop the other community sites I work on: Planet of the Blogs and Wiki Ireland (more later).

You won it for work with boards.ie, would like to give a brief history of your involvement with boards.ie?

As part of the IGN’s “quake.ie” website, I installed a Perl-based bulletin board package called “Matt’s WWWBoard” in Feburary 1998 (because I wanted somewhere that people could organise games, talk about Quake in Ireland, etc.). There weren’t all that many free bulletin board packages available back then, and this seemed one of the most useful at the time. The quake.ie WWWBoard really took off, but the software wasn’t written to have so many topics under discussion and it quickly became unusable (with a big long page of threads to kill your 36k connection).

Tom Murphy (of a company called Spin Solutions) was also quite taken with online bulletin boards. He had set up an ASP-based forum to talk about a gaming event called Quakapalooza, and saw a larger future for these discussions than just Quake. There’s a widely-quoted IRC conversation between us from 1999 I think (Tom mooted the idea of having a general purpose bulletin board site for Ireland, and I think I said that boards.ie would be a great name, but difficult to get) where he bet me that he would get the domain name boards.ie (at that time, the IEDR would not issue ‘generic’ domain names) and if he could do so then we would migrate my existing Cloud Boards to this new site.

Sure enough, he got the domain (by changing the name of Spin to Boards for one day), and boards.ie was born in 2000. The company boards.ie Ltd. was established independently, and consists of some former members of Spin and myself. Nearly six years later, and I’m still actively involved with boards.ie, less so in terms of post or user moderation but I still actively create new forum areas and try and classify the forum hierarchy according to what seems right to me. My main role is in feature development – we’re adding new features all the time: blogs, wikis, podcasts – and my next step is to create entry portals for the different bulletin board communities, so I’m happy to say that 15 years after my first electronic bulletin board usage, I’m still fascinated by them!

What are your thoughts on award shows in general?

Even though boards.ie won both a Golden Spider and a Zeddy Award in 2001, and was a runner up for a NIBA in 2000, I wasn’t really that well-up on the various awards ceremonies until more recently (as my previous day job was as a lecturer in electronics, so I wasn’t directly involved in the internet industry). From what I can see, the Golden Spiders awards for 2005 is being widely acknowledged by the web developer community as a pat-your-own-back farce. I just saw the Golden Spiders’ nominations list yesterday, and even though I can’t claim to know all sites in the Irish internet demense, I didn’t see many that I recognised in that list. And the reason is: you have to pay to enter…

I liked the way that the IIA Net Visionaries were freely community nominated and voted on (and it worked out well for me, wah-hey!). Some disagreed with the fact that nominees had to pay to attend, and I guess with a total of around 40 nominees out of an attendance of 400 or so, this could have been factored into the non-nominee tickets, but this is a small matter and I don’t mind that too much. However, the thought of having to pay to apply to be an awards nominee in the first place (á la Golden Spiders) is ridiculous. If you look at some of the categories like “Best Personal Website” or “Best Community Site”, are these non-profit people also supposed to pay to enter the awards? The Zeddy Awards were set up in 2001 in opposition to the Golden Spiders. They didn’t last, but I’m glad that the spirit of this idea is returning in 2006 with the Irish Web Awards.

Also, I think it is good not to pitch the Net Visionaries and the Golden Spiders (or the forthcoming Irish Web Awards) against each other. The Net Visionaries should continue to focus on individual’s achievements, and the others can then still list organisations or companies as nominees.

You do research in the Semantic Web and social software at DERI, NUI Galway. Firstly do you want to describe what the Semantic Web is and what social software is?

Sure. Basically, the idea of the Semantic Web is to add more meaning to the web. I guess most people realise that computers can only do so much with the “natural language” information that is on the web at the moment – they just aren’t evolved enough to understand what pages of text are about. The idea of a Semantic Web was put forward by the inventor of the current web, Tim Berners-Lee, and involves a move from unstructured pages of text to semi-structured information that can not only be understood by people but can be interpreted by computers to present the information to people in new ways.

Searching for information today is based on finding words within web pages and matching them. For example, if a person was searching for information on the former English rugby captain Martin Johnson, they would visit a site such as Google and type “Martin Johnson� into the search box. The search engine will not only return web pages for the rugby player, but primarily those relating to his more famous artist namesake Martin Johnson Heade (and many other Martin Johnsons besides). One way to improve this would be for a web page author to add some extra meaning to their document, for example by marking the words Martin Johnson with tags (Martin Johnson). This is a simple example of annotation, where semantic meaning can be added to the Web. Now a computer can determine that this Martin Johnson is a rugby player, and that he may be the one that you are looking for.

Since it’d be difficult to add annotations to all existing websites, natural language techniques can be employed to try and extract meaning from words on a web page in the same way that a human reader would. The next step is the development of various ontologies. Ontologies, providing a vocabulary of terms in a certain area (for example, there would be separate ontologies for sports or soaps or science) are used to specify the meanings of the annotations added to web pages. For the rugby example, there may be definition in an ontology that a rugby player is a member of a team, or that each team has 15 players. These ontologies are designed to be understandable by computers as part of the Semantic Web.

Social software allows people to connect, communicate or collaborate by use of a computer network – resulting in the creation of shared, interactive spaces. Some examples of social software systems that readers may be familiar with include discussion forums (like boards.ie), blogs, wikis (e.g. the Wikipedia) and online social networks. Like my love for bulletin boards, my interest in social software (of sorts) goes back to my undergraduate days: one of my first programs in 1991 showed a map of the various computer rooms in UCG with details of who was sitting at which terminal – a handy way to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know!

By using Semantic Web technologies in social software systems, I’d hope that we can create new methods for connecting people to other people and also to the information that they have created.

boards.ie to me anyway is a fascinating community. 40,000 members and the site seems to have its own culture and subcultures. There are cliques and gangs and rivalries, friendships are created and sometimes lost on it. When you see the CSO definition of a town as a place with 1500 people, would you think boards.ie is like a city?

boards.ie is quite like a city: it has its must-see areas, its run-down sections, a prison for offending users, celebrities and roving gangs. We should be allowed to have our own mayor, city council, number plates (I want 06-B-01!) and representatives in the Dáil. Seriously though, I’m always amazed when I wander into a forum area that I don’t normally frequent and see these groups of people who ‘live’ there and sometimes have little connection to the rest of the site. But it is where the connections are made that people from these overlapping communities share and learn and often find new interests, thereby evolving their own community areas.

As well as being a useful way of sharing and finding information on whatever topics you’re interested in, It is the friendships and enemyships that often keep people coming back for more – some of our busiest days happen when public fights erupt between boards.ie mini-celebrities! There’s such a diverse range of topics too – Pat Kenny read out a thread from boards.ie this week which was describing an exposé he did on his radio show about Irish Psychics Live, and there are discussion areas about all kinds of stuff ranging from David Hasselhoff and Wanderly Wagon to personal issues and zombie photo makeovers.

I also like to incorporate like-minded communities into boards.ie. One of the first such that I persuaded to join us was the popular Irish Cable and Digital Guide (ICDG) community, who were previously hosted elsewhere. We have an open offer to other existing communities that they can join (and make use of) the existing boards.ie memberbase and we will try and import any previous messages to ensure continuity.

Has it helped you in your research?

Yes, because I came into my research job (in the Semantic Web and social software area) with knowledge of how an online community is formed and works, how it is structured and so on. One of my main projects is called SIOC (the Irish word for frost), which stands for “Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities”. This is basically a system for connecting online communities, for example, let’s say we want connect discussions on the web archive of the Irish Webmaster Network’s Open mailing list to those ongoing in boards.ie’s Webmaster forum. The structure of most online discussions are quite similar, whether they be on blogs, Usenet newsgroups or forums – they consist of discussion starters and replies or comments to the initial post. SIOC can connect all these discussion primitives – through links such as similar topics of interest, social networks, related forums, etc. – we just need people to install the exporters that we are developing for various open source and commercial discussion systems. More information for techies at http://rdfs.org/sioc/ regarding SIOC.

As well as boards.ie you seem to own dozens more websites and have a huge amount of other discussion boards running. Care to list them all out here?

Well, I do run a medium-sized bulletin board site for Japanese culture called “boards.jp“. I also run a number of smaller (not very active) sites for other countries: New Zealand (boards.co.nz), China (boards.com.cn), and the US (boards.us). I’m also planning other sites for Austria, Spain and India – but for all of these, I need to get some momentum going. Like boards.ie, this could initially be formed through a group of 10 or 20 active users interested in a particular topic. Most of these sites can be accessed through boardsgroup.com.

Apart from that, I run the Planet of the Blogs blog aggregator for Irish Blogs, a corresponding one for New Zealand called “Generation Blog”, the irishblogs.org free blog hosting service, Wiki Ireland, the anime.ie site for the Anime and Manga Society of Ireland, a site for Japanese synthesizer musician Isao Tomita at isaotomita.org, and then there’s my own personal pages (Cloud, John Breslin, Ambient Zone).

I’m a real hoarder, so I often buy domain names with the hope of doing something with them eventually – I think I have around 50 or so at the moment (e.g. GalwayCity.com or CorkCity.net – don’t shoot me Damien!). With some of these, I’ve realised that my time is limited and I will never get around to doing anything so in those cases I’ve tried to donate them to relevant communities of interest.

Wiki Ireland is one of your latest ventures. What’s the purpose of it?

Wikis have had great success recently in terms of online collaboration for various purposes: e.g., creating virtual encyclopedias (like the famous Wikipedia), collaborating on research projects or papers, writing books, organising events, and so on. Wiki Ireland was set up as a non-profit project to create a valuable local knowledge store for Ireland’s culture and heritage, and I hope that it will act as a focus for collecting local knowledge and articles that may or may not be deemed noteworthy for a general knowledge encyclopedia.

The first wiki-focussed conference was held in Frankfurt in August, at which I talked with the creator of the first wiki, Ward Cunningham. I also met Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, where we discussed the open inclusion process of Wikipedia as opposed to the more traditional printed encyclopedias. I’d just created my first Wikipedia article, about a 1970s music group with the wonderful name ‘Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’. Jimmy said you’d never get that into one of the other popular (name removed) encyclopedias.

The project aims to use Wiki Ireland as a central site for collecting Irish knowledge such as folklore, history or geographical information from participants. The site welcomes contributors willing to devote any time to creating or maintaining articles on the knowledge store, be they teachers, students, librarians or knowledge enthusiasts! Articles can include local songs, poems or recitations; historical descriptions of towns, buildings or people; recommended walks for visitors to a particular region; fairy or folk tales; etc.

I have a personal interest in putting an archive of recitations online. My grandfather, Jack Casey, has been transcribing recitations from memory and elsewhere that he has been interested in since he was in school. My aunt typed up his first volume of handwritten pages, amounting to over 500 songs and poems, and I have just started to input these into the Wiki Ireland site.

How do you see the web changing in the next few years?

Ah, a question worthy of a Net Visionary (eek!). I think it has already changed from a set of static pages to living pages (through blogs and wikis). I think this will continue, and that many commercial websites will think about adopting the wiki model (with some access control limitations) thereby allowing teams to maintain their site’s content (rather than just one person as in the past). And associated with this, there will be this move towards supplementing or replacing the content of pages with semi-structured data for the future Semantic Web.

I was at a nice talk last year by Zack Rosen (of CivicSpace Labs), where he said they are very interested in Asterisk (free Linux PABX) and the idea that conversations could be recorded and used on community sites – this could replace traditional discussions. Podcasting is going this way; you can not only have text comments as replies to podcasts postings but also add audio ones. I can see some mailing lists being linked to phone numbers that you can ring up to leave audio comments for members of the list.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was recently in Galway, has his own vision of the future of the web, do you think it will be achieved?

Since a lot of Tim’s vision is towards the aim of the Semantic Web, I certainly hope so as my job depends on it! I think that through initiatives such as DERI at NUI Galway (funded by the Irish Government’s Science Foundation Ireland), we are fulfilling our slogan of “making the Semantic Web real”. Some of our systems such as the Jerome Digital Library or the YARS metadata repository are actually already in use and making it easier to do things on the web, as well as making it possible to do things that you couldn’t do before (e.g., on JeromeDL, you can pose some nice questions like, “show me all the recent documents written by people in my social network or friends of my friends that correspond to my topics of interest”).

You have a deep involvement with blogs with Planet of the Blogs and IrishBlogs.org. There are in the region of 700 blogs in the PotB aggregator now and there seems to be a good community attitude between the bloggers and a high level of mutual respect. Do you think the model of boards.ie could be applied here?

I’m happy to say that sites like IrishBlogs.ie (from Browse the World) and Planet of the Blogs (from myself and Martin Feeney) have seemed to create a momentum behind the establishing of an Irish blogging community. The same is happening in the Irish podcasting domain, through the efforts of Brian H. Greene amongst others.

If there was a lot of cross-interaction between the blogs, I think something similar to boards.ie could exist. That’s why systems like Drupal are so powerful (as I use on irishblogs.org), because you can have your own blog area but you can use your same account to comment on other people’s blogs, and you can also share authentication across Drupal sites.

Could you forsee 10,000 bloggers in Ireland?

I think that we could quite easily see 10,000 bloggers in Ireland. Actually, I think the quickest way to make this happen at the moment would be to offer all of our boards.ie members the option to have a blog. Like survival of the fittest, the inactive ones will quickly die out. We currently allow our paid subscribers to have WordPress [Multiuser, by Donncha O Caoimh] blogs, but it is not feasible to open up this system to everyone due to some MySQL limitations. However, we have been testing a new blogging system based on Drupal (with less features than WPMU) that could potentially be opened up to all boards.ie members through a shared user database.

Do you think there’ll be a large percentage of people blogging in the future?

Yes, but again more for the reason that people will continue to have websites about their favourite hobbies, bands, communities, etc., and blogs are a way to maintain a living site that can be syndicated and commented on that is not easily done with free hosting sites such as Geocities.

What are some of your favourite blogs at the moment? Do you subscribe to a lot of them?

I don’t subscribe to as many as I could, since Planet of the Blogs can show me a lot through a single syndicated feed. But some of the main ones I read include Danah Boyd and the Many 2 Many group blog which are both about social software, my colleagues blogs here in DERI, An tImeall, Eugene Eric Kim, Emmet Connolly, Bernie Goldbach, Marc Canter, and your good self.

So, we mentioned the semantic web and where that’s going, what about other technologies? What do you see as the main tech trends in the next 12 months and in the next 3-5 years? Ireland specific, what do you think will be the main Irish trends?

Annotated media is an interesting one for the near future – skip your DVD to the scene with the red shirt flapping in the wind, or ask your Sky+ box for shows that feature actors from Scotland. Podcasts can also be annotated, more so through automatic speech recognition, but people could also add annotations (e.g. URL references) or tags to parts of a recording as they listen to it.

There’s still a convergence going on between computing and traditional broadcast reception devices. My satellite receiver can record TV shows onto a harddisk, play MP3s, display pictures, be used to browse web pages, operate as an RSS reader, stream radio, play Lemmings, and so on. Some of us have DVD players and Sky boxes, but as of yet, not many that do absolutely everything.

I hope that in terms of Ireland there’ll be a trend towards more pervasive broadband, and cheaper too (but actually being able to get it is most important). As a non-mobile phone owner, I’m not sure what is going to happen there exactly (iMode?), but maybe it’d be cool if they could be used to run useful computations for SETI@home or cancer research when they are not busy.

For someone into technology and playing with all things web, you don’t even own a mobile phone which nowadays is a rarity, why no mobile? Do you own any gadgets?

Yes, I am one of the remaining 6% of people (including babies and seniors) that don’t own a mobile phone. I dislike their intrusive nature, but must admit that I don’t like phones (landlines) in general. Apart from that, I do like useful gadgets. I have a basic digital camera, a MiniDisc recorder, an iPod Nano that I won at a competition two weeks ago, and at home I have a Dreambox (a Linux-based satellite receiver), DVD recorder and a modified Xbox.

How do you juggle work, research, websites and play?

I’m fortunate now in that my work is quite closely related to what I would call my hobbies (like boards.ie), and therefore I find it really interesting. However, the problem is that it is difficult to switch off from computer stuff as it can take up all hours. I try not to work on my PC past 8 PM, but at the lastest 10 PM – otherwise I won’t sleep (soundly). Then it is a matter of making time for family, films, radio shows, walks (rare!), sci-fi and TV (common!) and travel.

You have a load of other interests such as anime and manga and you host a radio show in Galway. How did you get into anime and manga?

I got into anime unknowingly when I was a kid, through the TV show Battle of the Planets – a US sanitised version of the Japanese show Science Ninja Team Gatchaman – I loved it. It was only years later that I realised that what I was watching was actually anime. Then I was exposed to Akira from a friend in college, and it kind of went from there. I set up a site called Manga to Anime (now boards.jp), and could indulge my new obsession by conversing with like-minded fans there. Recently I bought an original ‘cel’ (animation still) from Gatchaman.

There seems to be quite a following in Ireland for this, ever wondered why and how it became popular here?

Anime and manga has just become popular everywhere really, and Ireland has recently caught on. The British Isles have been a bit behind in terms of this, as in the mid-nineties there were only a handful of companies releasing a limited set of anime here. But the world of P2P sharing and torrents has forced a more global view of the demand for anime, and now we’re reaping the benefits of this fandom as it hits the mainstream.

So, what next for John Breslin after being declared an Irish Net Visionary? What do you see yourself getting into?

As regards the immediate future, I am going to continue to work on the SIOC project in DERI, NUI Galway, and with the boards.ie site I’ll be looking at how we can offer free forums / blogs as well as installing an enhanced classifieds system (with Regi / Dan King). Wiki Ireland is also something I want to inject some life into, through outreach to schools or community groups and accessing those individuals literally brimming over with local knowledge.

Long term, vote John Breslin for President. Actually, President Breslin sounds a bit weird so I’d have to change the constitution to make the position that of King or Emperor so that it sounds better. Can I do that legally?

Upcoming interviews

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

This week I’ll be publishing interviews with John Breslin and John Kennedy. I also have an interview with Alan O’Rourke but might save that for next Monday. I will also be interviewing Clare Dillon, Donagh Kiernan, Ina O’Murchu and Alex French. I have another list of people I’d like to chat with and will get in contact with them to see will they be willing to be interviewed.

Perspectives – Why more “females” are needed and Poles and …

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Sinéad is again talking about the lack of women in the Irish blog(g)osphere and has received some good comments on her post.

Auds from realitycheck(dot)ie replied saying she doesn’t think there needs to be a highlighting of women and thinks this is some kind of feminism and she’s not fond of feminism but she does say having the perspectives of women in the mix is a very good thing. Beth Bond and Suzy also left comments on Aud’s blog highlighting all the things feminism has done to improve the lot of women. UPDATE: Fiona has gotten into the debate too. I’d agree with what they say and would add that feminism did a lot for combating all forms of discrimination and created the framework on how to make things more balanced.

I wouldn’t see wanting and encouraging more women to blog as either positive discrimination/affirmative action or being hypocritical to equality. We need more in the blog gene pool, we need information coming at us which is not so homogenous and another shade of concrete. I’d like my blog to be like my (ideal) diet. A combination of so many things and well balanced too.

The Irish bloggersphere now is male and tech heavy and I feel getting more perspectives of women will make things more interesting and take conversations down new paths. I feel the same about introducing other people into the mix. I’d really like to get the perspectives of the “non-nationals” (Is there a better word? I dislike that term.) who we interact with daily in the real world but we don’t see in the ‘sphere. Apart from Tatiana I’ve not seen many blogging.

And then there’s the disabled, the invisble people who Suzy talked about yesterday and how they don’t appear to have a voice for various reasons. How many disabled are in the community and how many are in the blog community?

It may all be voyeuristic reading the blogs of people we are ignorant of but is it not more polite then approaching a disabled person and going “so you’re disabled then. What’s that like?” Actually I was asked once “So how’s this whole gay thing working out for you?”. People are ignorant but many recognize their ignorance and don’t know how to address it. Blogs may be a way of doing that. Read the daily lives of a cross-section of the whole of society and not just one small group. It’s not disruptive and is non-instrusive.

BifSniff on front page of Boards.ie

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I just noticed that there’s a BifSniff cartoon on the front of boards.ie. Well done to the lads for getting exposure on such a busy site.

RSS via SMS for free – Yahoo

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Straight to the punchline

Anything that can be made into a public RSS feed can now essentially be linked directly to your phone. Millions of phones.

Russell Beattie just told the world the real big news from Yahoo yesterday. Wow. I’m well impressed with this. Everything can be made into an RSS feed and Yahoo will now send an update of that feed to your mobile. It’s not a mobile feed reader but it could be a damned handy alert monitor. Scoble mentioned that many servers now spit out error messages as RSS feeds. Very handy for sysadmins. And free!

Some bits from his post. Read it all.

Say you and all your friends or your social group all add alerts for a Yahoo! Groups RSS feed? Now when you post a single message – via email, MMS, or online – alerts go out to everyone in that group automatically. With one email to the list, I’ve sent a mobile text message to everyone.

simply create an RSS feed for anything you want to send off to your users mobile phones, get them to sign up for Yahoo! Mobile and add the alert, and they’ll start getting text messages from your system on their phone immediately. Yahoo! gets more sign ups and more engagement with mobile users, you get free SMS. That’s a good deal for both sides – which is how I know this is a great service.

Yes, the IBTS are being homophobic

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Sinéad talks about the IBTS and gay blood after reading Fiona’s posts about the IBTS.

I wrote a long piece on a webforum before about the IBTS and so I’ll reproduce it here and update it a little:

I’ve taken quotes from the IBTS site and I’ll highlight them and point out the ignorant arguments they put forward for being homophobic:

Q. Why does the IBTS not accept donations from men who have sex with men?

A. In line with all blood transfusion services in the developed world, the IBTS refuses to accept blood donations from men who have had oral or anal sex with another male. This policy was first introduced in the early 1980s when it became apparent that HIV could be spread by blood transfusions, and at a time when gay men represented the largest identifiable source of HIV transmission. The introduction of the ban on gay men was adopted before a test for HIV infection in blood donors was developed, and was very successful in reducing transmission of HIV from transfusions.

Right, so they are confirming that the ban was put in place at a time of panic and before testing. There’s been massive changes since in research and testing but we have 1980s attitudes still at play, but more about this later…

Just for the record there was a very strong case in the states a few years back for lifting the lifetime ban but the Red Cross which is very right wing Christian in America apparently vetoed the lifting despite two major blood donation groups wanting it lifted. Religion is just wonderful at times. I wonder if the ban was lifted in the states would Ireland and the IBTS follow?

They continue:

This policy causes considerable offence: it is clearly discriminatory against gay men, and categorises all gay men as being at increased risk of HIV; it has also been criticised because it seems to single out gay men to the exclusion of other groups in the community who also have an increased risk of acquiring HIV. In recent years heterosexual females have overtaken IV drug users and homosexual men as the largest group of new HIV cases in Ireland.

The IBTS accepts that they are being discriminatory; we discriminate against several groups in the community insofar as we refuse to allow them to donate blood on the basis of perceived increased risk of spreading infections through blood transfusion. These include anyone who has ever been injected with non-prescribed drugs, anyone who has engaged in sex for which they have been paid with money or drugs, people who have lived in Britain or Northern Ireland between 1980 and 1996 (because of the vCJD risk), people who have been in prison in the previous year, and several other categories.

Right, so they are saying they are discriminating but saying they are doing it for the safety of the population and they do exclude other groups too and have good reason. That almost sounds allowable, doesn’t it ?

But here is where it gets interesting and they catch themselves out:

Quote

Q. But what about testing?

A. While the testing currently used by the IBTS is the most sensitive available, no test can reliably detect HIV infection in the first ten days after someone has become infected. This means that a person who donates blood soon after becoming infected with HIV can transmit the infection even if the test for HIV is negative. For this reason all persons who are identifiably at increased risk of HIV are excluded. (Most of the heterosexual females who developed HIV infection in recent years would have been rejected as blood donors on the basis of residency in sub-Saharan Africa or other identifiable risk.)

The window of non-detection is 10 days. After that they can pick it up. So, something like a year ban would be good enough one would think. It isn’t 1980s Kansas anymore Toto, they have more modern and reliable testing methods so that they can check if you have HIV ten days after being exposed to it. You have got to wonder why there is a lifetime ban when they can detect if you have HIV if you were exposed 10 or more days ago.

HIV in the West appeared first among gay men in the eighties and had spread widely in the gay community before the nature of the threat was appreciated or understood. This indicates that men who have sex with men may constitute one route in the future through which a new disease, transmissible by blood transfusions, could find its way into the community before it is detectable. While heterosexual activity also represents a significant route of transmission now, the extensive spread of HIV through heterosexual activity in the West was considerably slower, and occurred predominantly after the disease was understood and methods to prevent its spread had been identified.

And there we have the homophobia. In other words “You people brought us AIDS and who knows what else you might bring in the future. You’re a threat to us. We don’t want your gay blood. ” That’s blatant discrimination.

To exclude someone on their sexuality and because down the line they may be prone to some new unknown virus is highly controversial and just plain wrong. If all Germans were banned from visiting France because in the past *some* of them invaded the country and there is no guarantee that they may not again, there would be outrage and everyone would agree it’s wrong.

Q. Why can’t you evaluate gay men on the same basis as heterosexual people?

A. It is arguable that the total ban on men who have had sex with men should be replaced by exclusion on the basis of activity rather than gender preference. Up to a point the ban is on the basis of activity ­ someone who is gay but has never had oral or anal sex with another male is not banned from donating blood.

Nevertheless it is true that the blood transfusion community uses a very blunt approach to the problem ­ but at present we know that this approach has been successful in the past, and is likely to provide the best level of protection to patients in the future should a new but similarly insidious form of infection appear again.

Again with the “they could give us another form of AIDS” excuse couple with the fact that what they did worked before so it might work again for these unknowns. So, they’re banning a people for their sexual practices on the basis that they might spread something unknown and to combat people getting this unknown they’ll ban gays from giving blood. It did work before, when they had no clue what the fuck was going on. The blanket ban worked but now testing works. This is like preventing hit and runs by carpet bombing every road. Sure it’ll work, but there has got to be other methods which are just as safe but don’t shun a portion of the population. Also nice use of the word “insidious” there.

Viruses can cause lethal infection with latent periods longer than ten or fifteen years. If a time limit were to be set so that men who had had sex with men in the past could be reinstated as donors after a period of abstinence, then that time limit would likely be very long.

They say “yeah we could allow some people but the ban would be very long.” So, it’s a start, its a sign that you trust us in some small way. Do it.

The United States has recently modified its ban on gay men, to men who have had sex with another male at any time since 1977. This means that gay men are accepted if they have been abstinent throughout the last 26 years. It is possible that the Europeans would consider such a move in the future; however the practical consequences are likely to be minimal.

And here they state that the 26 year time limit is so long they might not get anyone, so they’ll not put it in place. They have no scientific reason for this exclusion so therefore it is nothing but indirect discrimination due to laziness.

—-

I was at a debate around this time last year where the IBTS debated a very weak UCC LGBT soc and the first thing the woman from the IBTS did was give a little summary of all the STDs that gay men contracted and showed how they had a higher and sometimes hugely higher amount of STDs than the straight population. A fantastic way of building your argument but not something becoming of an organisation funded by the Health Board.

I also helped the LGBT soc write a press release on this and I remember a local gay mens organisation refusing to help or support them. It wouldn’t have anything to do with getting funding from the Health board though. No gay organisation would ever ignore discrimination simply to keep their funding…

Calling all Lesbians – GLEN looking for a board member

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

I was all excited to see that GLEN were looking for board members but after looking at the small print I see they are specifically looking for those who will work on lesbian issues. Pity as I probably would have submitted my name. Working in 2 lobby groups and doing a law degree at night and a job by day just isn’t stimulating enough, you know. 🙂

Anyways, ladies, go apply!