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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?

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.

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.

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.”

Newsvine – as intro’d by Om

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

Om Mailk talks about an interesting new News service on his blog. They’re called Newsvine. Says Om of them:

So what these guys have done is basically mashed-up traditional online news site with, and OhMyNews and created a rather interesting blend of citizen journalism.

Newsvine from what I gather take in newsfeeds from Assoicated Press and the like, allow tagging and allow you to add your own commmentary which will share space with the “professional” stuff. Adds Om:

So if you are a LA Lakers fan, then your columns could be featured right next to AP copy on a URL that will essentially look like

But wait, this goes a step further and doesn’t just appeal to your vanity as it could make you money too:

you get a piece of the advertising that is sold against content you generated

This is good. There are a good deal of bloggers out there who are far better than some of the press release rewriters. Perhaps some could make a career out of this but I would think many will just make extra beer money but if they write about what they are passionate about and are under no pressure jobwise or financially to talk about crap they don’t care about, then we don’t see it.

I’m still ruminating the idea and it being a hub of citizen journalism. This could be a way to do it.

Update 10-11-05:
Mike Davidson just unveiled a helluva lot more details about Newsvine. Nice tagline:

At Newsvine, we feel strongly that an article’s life only begins the second it is published.

Is this what could be?

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

A good while back I talked about the idea of and the potential to use it for Citizen Journalism. (Comments now work on that post.) 🙂

This evening I happen upon Common Times. From their blurb:

CommonTimes is a social bookmarking community for news readers. Peope like you determine the headlines by adding stories to our site. Become a citizen editor, it’s easy to get started

They provide integration with Bloglines and Delicious.

Read their Ten ways to use Common Times.

Looks fun. Nothing groundbreaking in the idea. – Citizen Journalism

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

*Update* Comments are now open and working.

A few weeks back I registered and yesterday I already got my first snailmail spam about it from some crowd trying to sell me hosting. So, why did I register

Someone that I’ve read and listened to more than anyone else of late has been Jeff Jarvis. His thoughts on the New Newsroom are to me quite inspiring. Citizen Journalism seems to irk a few people and people worry about the mass amateurisation of publishing or the mass amateurisation of nearly everything.

Certainly the O’Reilly Family fear blogs and amateurisation of a market they rule with an iron fist. While the likes of Citizen Journalism or Participatory Journalism might add a lot more noise it will add a lot more voices too and maybe the new generation of editors will be the ones to pick and choose from all these voices and knit together a professional story.

We may as a total group be amateurs but humans have been professional communicators since the start. This is one reason why we evolved so well.

So then, enough of the build up.

What I want to be is somewhere which gathers stories from Irish people. Aggregates them, from the mundane to the explosive, from very local to national.

In order to do this, my current solution, which may radically change once I get feedback is a system of local contributors. Split into areas and split those areas into smaller areas and so on. So we have frontpage stories which are fed by contributions from the provinces, the provinces are fed from county sections, counties from localities etc. etc. It reminds me of the Powers of Ten idea in a way.

So we have the local kid talking about who vandalised the playground and taking pics and we have the local concerned citizen talking about some local planning controversy. At the same time in the greater area there may be some big yet local story, for example lots of Cork people pissed off over water charges and all discussing it.

Now comes the hard part. How do these very local stories filter into the area list, filter into the county list and into the frontpage news? Could it be done by having local “editors” vote those posts into a higher up level, or would it be done by page votes?

Could there be a “Mark as interesting” button at the top and bottom of the story that could be pressed to give the story a vote?

I would hope that would be the place to give anyone and everyone a voice. Everyone if they wanted to, would become a reporter. There are many issues though about libel and whether could get into shit for reproducing content that was damaging.

Another issue is whether would work like Planet of the Blogs and IrishBlogs and just aggregate content from blogs and categorize them using Tags as well as how users submitted their site. I would prefer this than a Slashdot style system where you post your story to the site.

So, am I a coder, can I do any of this? Nope. Not a clue of PHP, Ruby or anything else like that. I’ve discussed it with Mr. Breslin alright and I think it piqued his interest. Anyone else wish to comment on this? As usual, comments don’t work on this blog, so just link your thoughts from your own blog and I should pick it up.

Edit: I meant province not provence. D’oh.

Dick O’Brien talks about here.

Bernie says don’t forget to allow comments. Definitely comments would be there, forgot to include that above. I’m all for comments* and find that the comment sections in many other blogs inspire new blog entries on the original and reader sites. Comments are essential for a 2-way web.

* The irony of course is that comments here are busted. But to fix the comments means I have to set aside about 3 hours to work on this blog. I don’t have a block of that size for the next while.

Further Update:
The Dossing Times picks up on it too. Zepp (real name?) suggests that importing all blog posts from someone would be just as noisy and spammy as IrishBlogs and PlanetofTheBlogs. He rightly says that blogs are not news sources as such. I left a comment which I’ll reproduce here:

True, blogs are not news sources, but you can post news on your blog. Blogs are a communications medium. When you do have something newsworthy then possibly adding a tag like “newsroom” would alert to add that into the mix.

I wouldn’t have just sucking in any blog posts hoping news would be in them. It would definitely need filtering. Tags right now seem the best option. Maybe there’s a better one I haven’t thought of.

I like the idea of categories like IT and stuff too. Never had factored that in to the original idea.

Also, wouldn’t be a competitor to RTE news or the like. I’d like to see it as a place to maybe grow journalists and give a voice to the little guy in a way. I think allowing the kid down the road to talk about the vandalised playground is just as important as someone getting another story heard.

Hopefully too with people reporting so much online it will become an historical record of the most local of things.

Update August 22nd 2005: News/Media Forum Piaras made some worthy comments:

Would be very suss of something that just aggregates feeds because it’d end up as another Indymedia – some gems lost in a sea of waffle. I’d be worried about the lack of balance tbh.

The spamming thing is a worry alright. I can see that get sorted by having a flood control of a sort built in somewhere


James Corbett also commented on

The main reason I would advise Damien to implement in such a small pieces, loosely joined manner is because it would require very little work for any Irish blogger to contribute. Many of them already tag their blog posts and it would be simple to adapt to a group tagging consensus if necessary.

Yeah, tags and aggregating content look like the easiest way to go so far, but with possibly some kind of spam control put in place.


Participative journalism is a dangerous precedent for our industry – Gavin O’Reilly

Friday, June 24th, 2005

Jarvis reports on a comment by Gavin O’Reilly made at a World Association of Newspapers event recently:

I think participative journalism is a dangerous precedent for our industry. People forget that newspapers have always been an interactive medium, people have always been able to interact with us through the mailbag.

This was in response to a question from the floor, slightly goes against what his his speech where he talks about the Internet being an integral part of their business. Perhaps he means people can email

Surprised nobody in the irishblogs picked this up. Or even the real Gavin. 🙂