Archive for December, 2005

Spoilt by Design – Interview with Alan O’Rourke

Friday, December 9th, 2005

Alan O’Rourke was a nominee in the 2005 Net Visionary awards in the design category. He runs Spoiltchild Design.

First of all well done on getting nominated and commiserations for not winning. Still, what was it like to be nominated? How did you like the event?

Absolutely devastated, I was ready to jump up and cry foul!! Nah, not really. I wont say I wasn’t disappointed but there is also a relief when its announced because you can then relax and look forward to dinner and enjoying yourself, which I did.
I had a ball. These events are great for meeting everyone, many for the first time after interacting with them online for a couple of months previously. The web is great for keeping in touch and communicating but nothing beats a good face to face. But try explaining to your wife that you have only just met the person in front of you while you chat like old mates.

You’ve also been nominated for a BAFTA Interactive Award too, which is pretty big. That must have been a big moment for you? Spoiltchild also got nominated for a few Chambers of Commerce awards, you’re getting a lot of attention fairly quickly with all these nominations. Are they good learning processes?

It’s a case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride! Eight award nominations since we started, seven this year and not a win yet. Your right, its amazingly quick considering we are only two years in business. I am proud as punch in fact. The Bafta was a “Holy Shit� moment. There was some amazing competition in it and the BAFTA judging panel are not afraid to put forward no nominations in a category if they feel that none are up to scratch. We found out on the night just how close we came to winning and it was something to either make you sick or thrilled that they considered it so good. I think that was the first validation that I might have something with Spoiltchild. My second thought was at least if Spoiltchild never gets off the ground it should make me more employable.

The chamber of Commerce awards were a great learning process. They helped highlight a big weakness in my business and myself which was verbal presentation. Its one area where a lot of designers, and developers too, fall down. The judging panel for that award was great to come up to me after the event and explain exactly where I fell down. I came away with more that evening then if I won anything. Presentation is something I am currently working on very hard at the moment and practicing every week.

How long have you been in the design business? How did you get into doing this? Have you always been a doodler? What inspires your designs? What are your views of Jakob Nielsen who seems ultra-conservative when it comes to design?

Haha, yes I have always been a doodler! I designed a magazine in primary school to try and sell to my mates for 50p a go. Mostly it was content from the Siamsa redrawn or traced by me and photocopied. It didn’t sell too well because once done I was more interested in designing the second one then marketing the first. Thankfully my business sense and respect for copyright law has improved since then.

I did take a roundabout way to get into design and realise that that was what I had actually been doing all along. No guidance teacher ever mentioned Design as an option. I tried a year in Fine art in Galway but despaired of the flighty nature of it. Took a year or two off and got a FAS job as a sign writer in a centre where I discovered their computer and proceeded to try and design their whole identity, branding, advertising and guide book. I think their signs still need painting. I then proceeded into film and TV production and then into gainful employment in a web development company called Spin Solutions.

I have no idea what inspires me. Everything I suppose. It seems to come at strange times and I have never been able to work out a formula for it. I think you just need to keep your mind open and also strangely be able to step away from your thoughts and look at them for potential. I think everybody has inspiring thoughts but not everyone steps back to realise what it is they are thinking. I am not sure if that makes sense.

To be honest I have never read anything by Jakob Nielsen. A lot that I have read about what he says just seems common sense to me. Like everything else in life design is a balance and you use your own best judgment.

Web 2.0 seems to have a massive amount of hype surrounding it, do you think it’s all hype or is it a big improvement?

Everyone seems to have different ideas as to what web 2.0 is. But all the interpretations are great anyway so I don’t think it matters. It is a rallying call and has created a renewed energy on the web that is great to see. Thankfully one of the universally agreed definitions of it is simplicity. Simple interfaces are always a good goal in my mind and so many applications are being realised with this ideal leading the design. It’s a clever and successful branding exercise that has made standards and user centric designs (that were once hard work) sexy!

Are you finding the likes of Skype and even instant messaging a benefit to your business? Do you get much business from outside of Ireland via search engine results? Do you foresee extending your reach to outside Ireland and increasing the number of international clients?

I was amazed this week when I actually thought about it. I have just employed a killer PHP developer from Poland, been dealing with a fantastic programmer in Singapore, a flash developer in south Africa and working on a Firefox extension with a brilliant extension developer in Mexico for a client based in Denmark but from the UK who has a business partner in the states. It truly is an international medium.

Mostly we use email and the brilliant Basecamp to work together on a project. Where Skype gets used mostly is actually in the office. There are now four of us here and everyone works a day or two from home to get a break from commuting and have a bit of an extra sleep in. Skype keeps everyone in touch throughout the day and files are normally passed back and fourth through it.

So far I have had no business come through search engines. But where they come in is if someone is looking for us explicitly or is considering working with us already and wants to check our profile on the web to be reassured. Nearly all our work comes through word of mouth.

Blogs and podcasts have really started to take off in Ireland, though a bit behind everyone else in the world as usual, how important do you think blogs and bloggers are? What about blogs for business? Are they effective for generating business and interacting with customers?

I think blogs are vitally important but like every other medium it depends on the blog and the blogger. Some are used well and written well with interesting helpful content very well targeted to a specific audience. Some are just rants and raves (not that I don’t enjoy a good rant!) which have limited business potential.

I am moving slowly into the whole podcast thing (the listening not the making). While a great idea and handy for filing in time between other things I am begging to wonder where people are going to get the time to be alone with their own thoughts and let their mind work and play on its own. My best ideas happen on the toilet where there is nothing else to do but let the mind wander. This is nothing against podcasting but against the way we insist on finding handy ways to occupy our every moment with outside stimulus.

The Irish blogosphere is still very much in its infancy. Do you foresee it expanding to a large degree or will blogs stay a niche or fad in Ireland? What blogs and Irish blogs do you read on a regular basis?

I think Blogs will always stay a niche, that’s their attraction. But there are millions of niches. Must it be put in Irish terms when it’s a global thing by its nature? In which case, at a guess, we probably have a pretty average share of bloggers per head of population. People seem to forget that Ireland has the population of a decent sized world city yet many comparisons seem to be made on a country basis even against countries of many many times the population.

I have too many blogs in my reader at the moment. Some culling needs to be done. Some Irish ones include:

And others:
… I could go on �

Are you a fan of gadgets and all the latest geek must-haves? Do you own mp3 players, digital cameras, smart-phones etc?

I love gadgets. I am currently drooling over the PSP and hoping Santa will be very very generous this year. I don’t travel enough to get enough use out of a really good MP3 player so I share a pretty basic one with my wife. As for a phone, I currently carry a brick around with me but its slowly dying and the new Nokia N70 looks so shiny and pretty.
Usually its down to money and if I have any or not.

You currently have a blog for your Pinstripe product and you are talking about the ups and downs of getting it out the door. What benefits did you see for being somewhat transparent while still being in semi-stealth mode? Pinstripe and Toddle both appear to be applications, are you moving into a new market with these and away from core design?

I don’t want to move away from design, and any clients reading this don’t worry 🙂 I love design, its my first love and always will be. There are a couple of reasons for building these applications. First they are great ideas. If I wasn’t going to build them who would. Also like all great products they fill a need, primarily mine. They will make my life as a designer and business person easier. But I figure if they make my life easier wouldn’t they make life easier for others as well. They also allow me to build an application the way I believe one should be built and interacted with. I am a huge believer in simplicity. When I approach a user interface I want to be in no doubt a) what it does and b) how to use it. In the case of Pinstripe and Toddle I really believe we have done that and I think you will agree when you see them.

Second is money. There are very low margins in Design and limits to growth. It’s a service industry so you get paid for your time. The big limit is that you only have so much time and can only bring in so much money. You have to be working a certain number of hours each week to ensure that you and everyone else in the team gets paid at the end of the month. That means you have a limit on the time you can work on the jobs you want to work on and need to accept less interesting jobs to cover the bills.
There are few limits with a product. If set up right you can be selling products when you sleep. Its selfish really. I want to relax more and not worry about covering the bills at the end of the month. I want on work more on the jobs I am interested in. Give design projects more time to make them really great.

The benefits I see to blogging about the process is early exposure to the applications. Its already building interest and it is also getting people involved in the process and journey. If people are interested and feel involved they become emotionally invested in the product and hopefully want it to succeed. That in turn leads to wider exposure as word spreads.
Also the market for the applications is predominantly business people. As I openly discuss the business process I go through I am touching on topics of great interest to them which will hopefully mean they will stick around to try out the applications when they come out.

I have never built an application before. It’s a new area for me and the business. I am sure there are a lot of other people out there considering doing it as well but they don’t know where to start or what they will run into when they do. I am a huge believe in giving to receive. That philosophy has built Spoiltchild. So I am sharing the information about all the ups and downs of the journey in the hopes that someone else might learn what works and what doesn’t work so they don’t make the same mistakes. Hopefully the universe will send that back to me somehow.

What’s it like in Ireland in terms of support from Govt and local organisations for a small business? Is the Govt doing enough to encourage inward investment and entrepreneurship? What changes would you like to see happen in order for increased success rates for small companies?

My business plan for Pinstripe has gone in this week. I will tell you how I get on 🙂 Toddle is small enough of a project that we don’t need any outside support. Education is the best way to increase success rates.

Where do you see SpoiltChild going in the next 12 months and the next 3-5 years?

In the next 12 months Spoiltchild will have released five products. At that point it should be out of my system. It should give us the comfort zone to grow how we want to. I don’t want to grow too big. There is a stage in design studios where management and admin takes over from the design and creates a separation between the client and the designer. I don’t intend that to happen. We will grow to about 7-8 people and be working from a nice office in Dublin working on some creative projects for many of the same great clients we have today helping them get bigger. That’s all I want…that and the PSP.

IrishBlog Awards Venue

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

Rightso. Date: Last Saturday of January. Venue:Piaras has found 4 Dame Lane in Dublin to be quite suitable for the Blog Awards but they want 200 people to attend if we want the place for free. Think we can manage that? Seriously now. It would mean bloggers bringing 4-5 friends each to this event. Can you do this?

Fax Your TD – Want to help with this project?

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

John Handelaar is going to build a FaxYourTD application. John is actually doing what many of us wanted for so long. Go here if you want to help him out.

Moving the Interviews to

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

I think I’ll put all the existing and future interviews over on and just link to them from this blog then. What do people think?

Doc Searls quotes Eirepreneur – Well done James

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Doc Searls quoted this post from James. Well done for getting the respected Doc to reference you. Course he wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t been so bloody wise in what you said, so well done on again!

A wasted opportunity – Politician’s Blogs

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

After glancing at Liz McManus’ blog I’m quite disappointed that it reads like a newsletter or something sent through PR filters. Her blog would have been a good platform to explain herself more and to go away from the scipt. Less soundbites and more discursive posts. She is not writing for her audience or conversing with them, she is lecturing. While comments are allowed, there doesn’t seem to be any way of motivating people to comment. Shame really.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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, would like to give a brief history of your involvement with

As part of the IGN’s “” 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 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 would be a great name, but difficult to get) where he bet me that he would get the domain name (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 was born in 2000. The company 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, 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 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, 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. 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 is like a city? 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 mini-celebrities! There’s such a diverse range of topics too – Pat Kenny read out a thread from 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 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 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’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 regarding SIOC.

As well as 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 ““. I also run a number of smaller (not very active) sites for other countries: New Zealand (, China (, and the 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, 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

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 free blog hosting service, Wiki Ireland, the site for the Anime and Manga Society of Ireland, a site for Japanese synthesizer musician Isao Tomita at, 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. or – 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 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 could be applied here?

I’m happy to say that sites like (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 could exist. That’s why systems like Drupal are so powerful (as I use on, 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 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 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, 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, 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 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?