The €4 Million Govt website that you never heard of

In a single sentence: 4M quid spent, no stats on usage.

The Irish Times today has a story on Mobhaile, which was a website created so county councils and community groups could have an online presence. My first interaction with the site was via blogs that it hosted for a time. I was reminded of it a few years ago by a fellow blogger and then saw mention of it last year too, so in December 2009 I did an FOI about it after reading Dáil transcripts pointing out at least 2M was spent on it. In turned out to be 4 Million.


The expenses for this system are below. Was it a success? Well they spent 4 million quid and then shut it down and how did they measure success? Well they didn’t know the number of visitors or logged in users as they never enabled logging of this information. That’s right, the most basic form of measurement of a website was shut off.

And the excuse:

“To put in Webtrends licences on each of those sites was an expense that we couldn’t have borne,” he said.

Which kind of conflicts with:

He added that the project saved a significant amount of money by moving to open-source software during its development.

Where are the log files? These are records under FOI. No records I was told. It’s perverse that with 4M quid of taxpayer money being spent, money on stats is deemed too expensive.

A huge issue here for me is where was the oversight? 4 Million quid, boom times or not (great excuse that), this is a serious amount of money. That would fund a huge amount of startups that could build something that lasts more than 3 years. Also, despite the site being shut down, hosting is still happening and being billed for?

All this information was required via FOI. Here are the released docs as PDF Attachments 1, 2, 3. OCRd Word docs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Please do go through them and share your thoughts.

Expenditure: Mobhaile
LA Claims paid out-eChampions/elnclusion 629,129
Travel & Subsistence 25,318
Training & Conferences 19,908
Advertising 17,079
Development Costs 1,482,092
Computing Costs 1,275,878

Accommodation Costs 48,426
Administration Costs 11,298
Salaries 431,418
Hosting 2006 58,661
Hosting 2007 ¦ 75,119
Hosting 2008 86,940
Hosting 2009 70,583
Hosting for 4 years: 291,302
Grand Total: 4,231,848

I asked for stats:

Details of the usage of the system from launch including number of logged in users, number of accounts/websites/subsites created and website statistics (unique visitors, pageloads) yearly from inception to the present.

And got back:
Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with that information as the web-trending software wasn’t configured to provide statistics on Mobhaile sites

“Web-trending software not configured” is a bit different to: “To put in Webtrends licences on each of those sites was an expense that we couldn’t have borne”

I asked a technology bloke about the hosting and he said:

It’s all hosted by the LGCSB, who for some reason have their own AS number (which they do not need, but gives them 7000 IP addresses that I doubt are being used :P). This is pretty darn expensive, since they end up having to peer with higher ISPs (they seem to be peering with C&W as a level 2 provider, which would not be cheap at all)

Here’s a Silicon Republic interview with Ray Rochford about it. Dial down the sensitivity of your bullshit meter.

Here’s where some of the money went.

Read through all the docs and see how this project changed numerous times. More costs. What I find amazingly interesting is the final document that was sent on, to me, reads like it’s explaining how 4 Million can be spent on something that’s now shut down and somehow was ahead of its time and opened the gate for iPhone and other buzzwords:

Finally, would the Mobhaile project be initiated again, if funds permitted? Yes, but in a different fashion. The toolsets available now for Communities are far easier to source, understand and maintain that they were even 3 years ago. The evolution of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and OpenID are three main areas of work that the Mobhaile team developed solutions for transitive Identity across all community sites and the idea of single sign on. In the current web2.0 environment where many of the toolsets provided by Mobhaile are now available for free (albeit with Advertising attached in some instances), I believe that there still is a role of co-ordination, training, understanding the different toolsets and harnessing the power of the internet for those who are less well off in the internet economy .The role (for someone) to help those less well off (in different terms) to learn, understand and harness the power of the internet-there still is a role to bring the disenfranchised in – or maybe to carry the franchise to them.

This is the copy of Mobhaile.

Mobhaile, mo problems.

Update: Six years ago people were questioning this whole project.

40 Responses to “The €4 Million Govt website that you never heard of”

  1. Madness! Very revealing. It seems they were actually given a €4 million budget over those years and were still €200,000 over budget?

    Ps. Links to PDF’s aren’t working at the mo.

  2. Links should work now?

  3. Contracts for services like Mobhaile provide easy ways to top up revenue lines that can then be used for contractor salary payments and to offset licensing costs for enterprise software. There’s a much bigger story about Mobhaile and incestuous government funding than the one you’re telling here.

  4. Sean O'Grady says:

    4 million for that POS ? I am severely undercharging …

  5. Eoin says:

    Great stuff Damien. I had a vague connection to Mo Bhaile at a Dublin council in 2005. It was an expense swallower and an opportunity for career advancement for those who believed top down online services equals democracy.

  6. Chris Byrne says:


    excellent stuff. is the etender document available I wonder. If anyone tendered for this contract and failed would be interesting to hear if these numbers match the original pricing.


  7. Paul says:

    From the IT article: “the project saved a significant amount of money by moving to open-source software during its development.”

    It’d be interesting to see exactly how much they reckon this move saved – given that they still came in 200k over the colossal budget – and also what OS software was used.
    The technology stack listed in the PDFs (.NET framework, SQL server, Sharepoint, etc) is very enterprisey and mostly require fairly pricey licences. I’m wondering if a licence fee was paid for part of this stack, which was later removed in favour of the OS version. The reduction in future licence fees would of course count as a saving, but if this was the case a far greater saving could have been made by a more rigorous pre-project assessment to decide on these tools and software before development started, rather than switching them mid-stream.

    Also, OpenID has been floating around in one guise or another since the end of 2005, so the suggestion in their final document that they had to develop “transitive identity management” systems due to the lack of viable alternatives out there at the time isn’t wholly accurate either.

  8. paysan says:

    Nice work Damien, its similar to the money paid out on the website. BASIS is no longer updated but it is still costing a significant amount of money in hosting charges.

    I had dealings with the LGCSB on other issues but I remember sitting in at a meeting in the early days of Mobhaile when they were saying that there was a major problem in authenticating peoples PPSN number with the Department of Social Welfare. I’m not sure if they ever solved that problem as DSW do not buy into the idea of joined up eGovernment…

  9. Jesus lads. I’m sitting here trying to work out how they spent 70 grand a year on hosting. They never heard of scaling up?

    I’m wondering how they spent that much on equipment. They must have bought a server for every county. And a backup.

    Development sounds like they tried to re-invent a lot of wheels.

    Short way of saying, I’d say these lads were, like many PS spendings, taking the piss.

  10. Google Analytics is free, and provides some great stats, similarly, their webserver will most likely have Webalizer sitting in the background recording stats.

    I’d say the FOI request hasn’t been completely responded to given (I suspect) the traffic/stats information is available.

    Well done on the FOI Damien.

  11. TJ McIntyre says:

    Great work Damien. This is better than most journalism we’ve seen recently.

    I can’t help but think that €4m spent on sites such as would result in a much greater return on investment.

  12. marie duffy says:

    Well done.
    It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Just another example of a waste of money- yet there are great ngo’s and new startups who can’t get a penny to boost he aazing work they are doing.

    Makes me sick…

  13. Deirdre says:

    Oh holy Christ. That really does take the biscuit. Would love to know whose pet project it was.

  14. […] Mulley has a story of a €4 million government website on his blog – I’m too stunned to comment. Category: broadband, eamonn ryan, incompetent, politics  |  Comment (RSS) […]

  15. Not surprised to hear this. Nearly 6 years ago now since a few of us were airing misgivings about Mobhaile –

  16. CMOD Joe says:

    Very good article, Damian – you should get a Local Govt Audit job!

    The project was titled as “Mo Eilifint Bán” in its infancy within the LA community. Local Authority IS managers were highly critical of it before a line of code was written (Aug 2003). Real & lasting Local Authority business-to-citizen applications could have been developed with the money.
    It was a vanity project, pushed by one County Manager and some LGCSB “visionaries”. You know it actually won an eGovt award a couple of years ago!
    The scary thing is that the governance lessons haven’t been learnt and even more scary – some of the Information Society people who oversaw funding for this class of waste are now seeking to control all public sector ICT spend –

  17. Mark says:

    That is just sickening. Four million euros on what…a blogging/community forum service? I could bang out a half-arsed competitor on a lazy Sunday.

  18. Eoin says:

    @Cmod Joe: “pushed by one County Manager” we both know who that is right?

  19. King Dumb says:

    What are ye all on about ? -> €50m -> €4m

    Bargain !

  20. Joe Desbonnet says:

    I would love to see an Award Ceremony where we can acknowledge some of the creative ways public servants piss away our money on IT projects. They can’t be sacked, but maybe some naming and shaming might introduce a tinge of fear.

  21. shane says:

    Good job, Damien.

  22. Senan says:

    Unbelievable! But at least they have a website to show for the money spent. Quangos like FAS have spent money that simply vanished into thin air!

  23. they could of bought blacknight for the price of the hosting, but someone definitely made off like a bandit with the cash and nothing will be done about it.

  24. lisadom says:

    Sorry to point out the Elephant in the room but SOMEBODY CHARGED 4 million for something I could put together in a few mornings on using Google blogger, Facebook, Twitter and some empty toilet roll holders, an icecream tub and some sticky back plastic.

    why would an IT company charge so much?

    Why does a dog ……. wag his tail?

  25. Ronanob says:

    So typical, this project was clearly conceived by people that dont know enough about technology to have realised that the people that it was intended for didnt need that as a platform or don’t use social media in general

  26. Andrew says:

    Well I’m sure everyone will learn from the mistake. Right? ……Right?

  27. […] Damien Mulley’s FOI on wasteful government spending on now-scraped a website is on his blog. […]

  28. Roisin says:

    Good Job – hope it will be picked up in some of the mainstream media!

  29. […] The €4 Million Govt website that you never heard of « Damien Mulley – In a single sentence: 4M quid spent, no stats on usage. […]

  30. Well done in uncovering what must be one of the worst excesses in public spending. Those that are clueless shouldn’t be let near budgets of that size.

  31. And all the other shit goes on and on..
    Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizzare unprecedented.

  32. John McNulty says:

    The software licensing fees for things like SharePoint and SQL would only have been €100k max, i cant believe over 3m was spent on development!!! Any idea of who was contracted by the LGCSB to do this work!!

  33. daniel says:

    Answer to last post. Nearly all the development was done in house by contractors on effectively indefinite contracts at top contract rates. It was “managed” by LGCSB management which is why they ended up with nothing as they burned through cash with no idea what they were trying to achieve.

  34. […] question is will Gateway Ireland be another Mobhaile or something that can both move the needle in terms of Global Irish business as well as helping to […]

  35. […] project sounds great, but is clearly unfocused and directionless. Doomed to failure, much like the project which I could see from it’s outset would fail. And the aftermath shows that there had […]

  36. george says:

    rubbish.. you could get a server for 5 grand, have a thousand sites on it, and he’s talking about web 2 ? I saw nothing of web 2 on that scam of a thing, and no social networking tools. most sites were built with crap out dated .asp programing
    its another day light white collar robbery .

  37. P M says:

    €4m on Mobhaile is but ONE example of many that could and should be cited as waste-of-money when it comes to what LGCSB has “managed” over the years

  38. Mark Manning says:

    My first and only lasting entre to the world of blogging came via mobhaile.

    I essentially was given a username and password …by a senior official at a certain organisation.

    I found myself addicted to Blogging as I am a creative old soul…I remember I had over 100 posts …and god knows how may man hours :).

    I knew no better at the time…… I can’t even access these posts now.What a bloody useless waste of my time … To think 4m went on it !.Christ !!!