Author Archive

The accidental technologist – Interview with Michele Neylon from Blacknight Internet Solutions

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Michele Neylon was short-listed for the Internet Enterpreneur Award at this year’s Netvisionary Awards. He agreed to do an interview with me and this is the result:

Well firstly congratulations on your nomination and commiserations for not winning the NetVisionary. So, what to you is a NetVisionary, what was it like to be nominated?

It was a great honour to be shortlisted for the awards. There are quite a few awards in the industry every year, but the NetVisionary is the most transparent and important in my opinion, as you are chosen by your peers. Anyone who gets shortlisted should feel a certain degree of pride. Personally it gave me a great feeling of achievement. I was, of course, disappointed not to win this year, but no matter what I do moving forward I will always be able to say that I was shortlisted and
that in itself is a great honour.

Your educational background shows you taught English in Italy amongst other places. How much of an advantage in business is it to speak more than just one language?

The only time the languages come into play directly is when we are dealing with our non-English speaking clients and suppliers. At this stage we are dealing primarily with the English speaking market, but I would like to see us move into other market areas in the future, as I feel there is plenty of room out there. Having said that I would also feel strongly that verbal fluency and good language skills are essential in business. If you cannot communicate clearly with your clients, staff, suppliers and market I would see longterm success as being impossible to achieve.

Your business in based in Carlow and before that you were in Cork. Not a fan of big cities? Running an IT business from Carlow in a way is what the Government is trying to push and to stop people adding more pressure on Dublin. What are the advantages and disadvantages in running a business in Carlow or any small town?

We ended up in Carlow almost by accident. In some ways it can be quite frustrating at times, as the infrastructure in some areas can be a bit lacking. However it also has many advantages. Anybody working in Dublin has to deal with a certain degree of stress getting from A to B. Not so in Carlow. The running costs are also lower outside Dublin, which in a sector with high running costs is important.

How did you get into the IT area? Do you see yourself staying in IT or moving off into a sunnier climate to tend to a small vineyard?

Yet another accident I suppose. I had quite a bit of free time in college, even though I was actively involved in several the clubs and societies etc., so I spent my time messing about with computers. When the department needed a website for an event I was called in and the rest, as they say, is history. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t see myself working in another sector at this stage. A vineyard sounds like fun and maybe getting one in Sicily is something I might look at in the future.

Still on wine, what do you think of the free wine promotion for bloggers that Hugh McCloud did? Can you see more of this happening? Do you think it can work and balance things out and be benefit to all parties? Have you received any other offers?

I think the wine promo is a fantastic idea. I’m not sure how well it would work for other products and services, as wine is something with almost universal appeal. If you take a mature and honest approach to these kind of things then it can work to everybody’s advantage. I’m currently reading a couple of “techie” books that a publisher sent me based on the promise that I would write about them. The books cover topics that I am interested in, but I wouldn’t have bought them. The publisher knows that I will give them a balanced write up and they will get some PR from it. We all win. Unfortunately I haven’t received any other offers recently, but I’m always open to such things.

How important do you think blogs are both for business and for personal communications? Do you think they are a way to reach out to anyone worldwide with the same interests? The Irish blogosphere is still in its infancy, do you see it growing slowly or massively? 2005 seemed to be the year of the blog, when do you think this will happen for Ireland?

I think there’s a lot of hype around blogs at the moment. Once the hype dies down and the bloggers and audience mature it should become a very interesting platform for the dissemination of ideas and communication of concepts, developments or random thoughts. I’m a strong believer in the “right tool for the job” philosophy. Some people and companies can benefit from blogging or using other methods to interact with their clients and public, but it would not be appropriate for all of them. The other side of it is of course discretion and control. Business bloggers need to strike a balance between tantalising the public but not giving their competitors too much information.

What Irish blogs are your favourites? And non Irish ones?

I tend to browse blogs via RSS feeds from the various aggregators, although I do like to keep an eye on blogs written by people I know or who are working in areas that interest me. In terms of Irish blogs I simply love iced-coffee’s photos. Alan O’Rourke’s business blog is a good read, as are Ed Byrne’s, Piaras Kelly’s and Tom Raftery’s. There are quite a few international blogs that I read from time to time, but they are more topic driven than anything else. The only exception to that would be Darren Rowse’s blog that I follow religiously.

Blogs and blogging seems to becoming 24/7. When you have a thought or want to talk about something you just hit the blog. What about business? Is it gone from 5 days a week to 7 days or was it always like that?

It depends on the sector you are working in. In our line of work it is 24/7/365. Although I tend to wind down at the weekend I can never simply “check out” and I don’t think anyone else in the e-commerce sector can truly offer good service if they do not follow suit. The “traditional” working week is a concept that I respect, but not one that I truly subscribe to.

So how do you juggle it all? Do you subscribe to the getting things done way of multitasking?

The key is people. You have to work with the best, be they suppliers, employees or business partners. If you work with the best and set high goals you can achieve and succeed.

Are you a gadget freak like many of the techies out there or do you prefer to have your computer, your mobile and nothing else? What gadgets do you own?

I’m not really a gadget freak. I like quality goods that do what I need them to do, so you won’t find me buying the latest gadget laden phone for example. I can see the attraction of some of these gizmos, but I’m much happier with devices that are functional. I have a simple mobile phone, a reasonably good desktop pc and very little else. I don’t even have an mp3 player!

Anything you’re working on or that you’d like to work on?

We, as a company, have a lot of plans for the next year or so, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them at this juncture. On a personal level I’d like to develop some of my projects further, such as

How is Blacknight readying itself for the new .eu domains that are on their way?

The .eu is going to be the domain for the European Union. While .ie gives you the Irish “flavour” and .us is aimed at the US market, .eu is meant to cover all member states of the EU. At present we are entering the “sunrise” stages, which allow companies with trademarks and other prior rights to get the associated domains before the registry is open to the public next April.

At Blacknight we recently entered into an agreement with Ascio which allows us to register over 250 TLDs, including .eu as well as all the other EU country TLDs. It’s far cheaper to proactively register domain names associated with your business than worry about legal battles after the fact.

Everyone likes to predict the tech future. So what are the trends for the next 12 months and the next 3-5 years? Anything Ireland specific you’d like to mention?

I think the market is maturing. There is still a lot of ground to be covered, but as more and more businesses being to use the ‘net actively we should see some fantastic opportunities emerging. However I am very concerned by the government’s attitude to IT. There is a strong reliance on overseas investment, such as the Dells, Microsofts etc., and should those companies choose to move elsewhere the Irish economy would be very seriously damaged. Until such time as the government realises that they need to actually invest in infrastructure and promote indigenous companies Ireland’s economic future is at risk.

Michele Neylon is managing director of Blacknight Internet Solutions Ltd, an Irish hosting and domain registration company.

Interviewing Bloggers

Monday, November 28th, 2005

When the NetVisionarys were looming I was thinking to myself that a few stories in the press about the awards would have been a good way of promoting the event and that interviewing some of the nominees would have at least interested me. As it happened I don’t recall anyone doing this so I thought post-Netvisonary I’d ask some of the nominees who take part in the Irish blogosphere to do a Q+A session with me. I’ve asked 4 Netvisionary nominees so far and all have agreed to do interviews. The first interview will appear on this site tomorrow morning. I’m going to try and get other nominees and others in the tech business to do interviews too.

I hope the Disillusioned Lefties won’t get pissed over this. I don’t think we’ll be interviewing the same people or the on the same topics. Right now I’m mainly lining up business people who blog and I’m staying well away from political stuff. I’ll probably eventually move on to non-blogging people in the ICT field. Hattip to Tom Raftery too for his inspiring podcasts, they helped me come up with interesting questions.

EDIT: Brian Greene has podcasts of the NetVisionary event.

Them and Us

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Donncha mentions at least 3 Cork bloggers are in “Us”. The latest consumer product from the Ray D’Arcy show is a photography book called “Us” and I’m thinking I’ll buy a few of them as it’ll make some good consolation prizes for the Irish Blog Awards. Well done to Donncha, Ryan and Peter.

EDIT: Back from Waterstone’s and it’s sold out. Will send in the Mammy on Monday to Eason’s.

Getting through to a human

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

Found this cheatsheet for IVR systems and was thinking we’d need something like this for Ireland. We must all be sick of the phone menu firewalls preventing us talking to a minimum wage person and going through a maze of options before we can speak to someone who doesn’t want to help us.

A quick Google can even tell you the IVR systems that some companies use. Should be able to guess the default numbers then for getting to the humans and await their fantastic customer service.

Letters to the Editor – Something that’s dying off?

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

Thomas Crampton talks about the small amount of letters to the editor that the International Herald Tribune gets.

We receive at the IHT roughly 30 letters per day, of which 10-15 are usable, the letters editor said. We end up publishing roughly six.

These are letters by e-mail or fax or post. I wonder is it the same for Irish papers? When you think about all those moronic phone-in polls on the like of TV3 and Sky News where it seems 100s of not 1000s of people text in their opinion then that is seriously low. The likes of the Last Word on TodayFM get inundated with emails and texts on certain topics. Everyone is happily burying papers but I have to wonder why so little letters for such a large distribution?

Texts are immediate I guess, as are many emails to the radio shows. You listen to something on the radio and you txt in right away and they will probably read it out just after the piece. Instant satisfaction for you and quick and cheap. With papers your reply is delayed by at least 24 hours. Very much like “Oh, what was it I was talking about again? Oh yeah.”

Wolves in the Walls – Glasgow in March/April

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

I think I’ll make a trip to Glasgow in March. Neil Gaiman’s Wolves in the Walls – the Musical is showing there.

Tednorati – Groan! Oh James!

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

James talks about Doogle and suggests we have an Irish Technorati called Tednorati. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Scoble is bigger than Bill Gates but not John Lennon

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

Scoble has been all humble after someone declared talking to him is like talking to Bill Gates.

I’m very honored, but that tells me my hype has way gone over the top. I haven’t done anything special. I haven’t cured cancer. I haven’t invented anything. I haven’t built a product. I don’t have the power to change your life the way a billionaire could. I haven’t written a line of code. I just write everyday about what I’m seeing and feeling.

Perhaps Bill with his access to nearly every desktop in the world and his wallet bursting with billion dollar notes could significantly change the world and make it better but I don’t read Bill’s blog (because he doesn’t have one) and I doubt if he had one he’d be linking to potential competitors, giving kudos to clever technologies no matter who made them or responding to comments. Scoble does all this and still does his day job. I don’t know was it Scoble’s influence or just a seachange in Microsoft but I can start to see humanity in Microsoft now. It is slowly becoming a company with a sense of community compared to the old Beast of Redmond persona it had. Even if Scoble didn’t have anything to do with this he has highlighted the changes and as his recent podcast with Tom Raftery showed he isn’t afraid of speaking out against evil deeds done by Microsoft.

Robert has a massive audience who he cares about, a lot of important people read him daily and debate him. In return for having such an audience he isn’t afraid to give some love back by talking about people who contact him with interesting ideas and products. His audience gives him the power to promote some great products that we may never have seen if it wasn’t for him.

I’d disagree that he hasn’t the power to change lives. He does but not on the same scale as Bill. He can promote a struggling company or individual and encourage them along on the road to success. Perhaps in the literal sense he hasn’t invented anything but what he has done is introduced the world on new ways of making contacts and doing business, he has helped companies to reinvent themselves by talking about what he thinks works. He says he hasn’t build a product, is his blog and his audience not a product of a sort?

I can’t see Bill Gates going to a pub and inviting people there for a pint. I can just see Bill Gates meet normal folk who want to hang around with him and talk about everything and anything: *Bill starts pressing the big red button on his Windows Live Utility Belt and the silent black stealth helicopters (with built-in Windows Vista technology) swoop in and whisk him away from the mob of fanboys as Ballmer throws chairs from the chopper.*

The Irish Geek Dinner with Robert Scoble is on Nov 30th. I just realised that it’s a Wednesday not a Thursday. I have lectures til 2100 on Wednesday. Dang.

NOTE: After a post that seems very brown-nosing I’ll no doubt have an anti-Scoble post out soon.

Digital Rights Ireland – Podcast

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Digital Rights Ireland talk with Tom Raftery. Another podcast from Tom, he’s being quite prolific of late with the podcasts. Every blogger that has some time and bandwidth should download this and take notes. Tom sounded quite surprised at a few things that were discussed.

60% of Irish people have never used email

Friday, November 25th, 2005

The JNLR figures came out this week and as well as having the usual Radio listenership stuff they had other trends on Internet usage and gadget usage. I unfortunately don’t have access to the data (you have to pay for it) but was told by a few friends and journalists about it. The biggie was that 60% of people have never used email and that only 45% of people either at home or work have access to the Internet. 14% of people surveyed have DSL at home and 37% have regular Internet access. I’m waiting on clarifications on these figures especially the “never used email” bit. Anyone know TNS MRBI people who could clarify these figures?

Piaras briefed us about the last JNLRs which showed 14% of people had an mp3 player. The most recent figures state that 8% of adults have an iPod. That’s quite surprising to me. Very high.

The low usage of Internet reflects an IrelandOffline press release on the digital divide we sent out earlier this week which quoted ComReg figures showing only 37% of households go online and only 1/4 of them use broadband. The big issue with the figure apart from being low is that it hasn’t changed in two years.

I’m genuinely shocked at this email usage figure and the fact that when you add work and home net access the usage figure is only 45%. So much for knowledge economy, so much for the digital hub.

UPDATE: Sunday Times piece on this.