Friday, February 11, 2005

The Irish Times Can't Keep Up With the Changing Times

Forwarded from Philip:

Peter, article on blogging in today's Irish Times. I note the
bias towards blogs who don't share our "world view", and the salivating
over Howard Dean.

Lots of blogs but few talking about Irish matters

Weblogs are taking off, but Irish bloggers talk about Iraq, the US and anything except Ireland, writes Robin O'Brien-Lynch.

The World Wide Web may have been invented by an Englishman (Tim Berners-Lee) working in Switzerland (at CERN, near Geneva) but it is the Americans who have stolen all the attention.

The rest of us invariably look Stateside for inspiration and innovation on the Web, and the US is home to several of the world's most popular websites, including Yahoo, Google, Slashdot, eBay, and, more recently, Blogger.

The idea of blogging - keeping a personal weblog to air one's views, as opposed to joining a multi-user discussion forum - may or may not have been dreamed up in the US but the term was coined there and the most widely read blogs on the Web are based there.

Expat North Americans are among the mostprominent bloggers in other countries, including the Republic.

Blogging in the State has seen significant growth over the past six months as the original ground-breaking sites are joined by increasing numbers of new blogs. However, there is a perception that the Irish blogging community is not quite the real thing.

It is a subjective distinction, but one important for the Irish political parties as
they look ahead to the next general election, even at this early stage. Important because of the Deaniacs, another innovation to come from the US.

The Deaniacs are the young, Web-savvy volunteers whose support turned Howard Dean from a little-known Vermont governor into the front-runner for the US Democratic presidential nomination in 2003.

Mr Dean came from a standing start to leave allhis rivals behind - and on the way smashed records for fund-raising. His success was driven by the Web community and, more specifically, bloggers who gave him vital feedback and encouraged others to get out on the streets, canvass, write letters and hold public meetings. And, of course, to hit on the "contribute" button on Mr Dean's homepage.

"A lot of the people on the Net have given upon traditional politics precisely because it was about television and the ballot box, and they had no way to shout back," Dean said at the time. "What we've given people is a way to shout back, and we listen - they don't even have to shout anymore."

No future presidential hopeful will run his campaign without taking at least something from Mr Dean's ideas (even though he lost). By studying the best-known blogs, his staff could glean more about the opinions of the US public from sea to shining sea than from weeks of doorstep canvassing.

Mr Dean also raised more than $30 million (€23.5 million), winning the "invisible primary" and propelling himself ahead of his rivals, and gaining the attention and respect of the media.

Are there any pointers here for the Irish parties? Fine Gael's (FG's) website is the one that most closely resembles that of the US parties. The Democrats' site,, features the slogan "Kick Ass!", referring to their donkey logo, and proactive features condemning the Bush administration and offering ways that supporters can help.

Most of the political websites in the Republic act as mere virtual pamphlets, carrying only the anaemic trio of press releases, profiles and policy manifestos. As well as their well-publicised site, Fine Gael features a "PDs – No Thanks!" parody piece and a list of "broken promises" from the coalition.

Despite this, FG director of communications, Mr Ciarán Conlon, believes the Dean model wouldn't work in the State. "The benefits for Howard Dean is that he could reach out across a vast country," he says. "There is nowhere in Ireland that can't be reached very quickly."

So glad-handing and baby-kissing will probably remain the methods of choice for Irish politicians. Even if a party did try to follow Mr Dean's example, it's doubtful that the message would go far.

The two biggest problems for the Irish blogosphere are out of its control; its infancy and audience. Blogging is a relatively new phenomenon and many of the Irish blogs researched for this article had only begun in the past six to nine months. A small national population means a small readership, and the blogging community in this State is a close-knit affair.

Bloggers worldwide have an obsession with referrals from other sites bordering on the neurotic, and most sites will have "blogroll" - a list of "blogs I like" - followed by "who's reading me".

In the Republic this practice leads to constant cross-referrals between a small group of people. Most of the comments left by readers come from other bloggers ("Love your site!" is a common one), and a couple of hours spent flitting from site to site will bring up the same names again and again. This insularity means that a lot of comment is back-slapping between internet buddies. Bloggers post links to other blogs rather than making comment themselves.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs, as there is some excellent Irish work waiting to be discovered.

Rainy Day ( by Eamonn Fitzgerald is a little heavy on homespun whimsy for some tastes but erudite and well-written. There is perhaps too much focus on foreign affairs at the expense of local comment.

On the other side of the coin, Dervala ( is an Irishwoman living in the US whose observations resonate with Irish readers.

"Planet Potato - an Irish blog" lives up to its name, with recent comments on Sinn Féin, Eircom and ubiquitous Niquitin ads.

Caustic humour is a rarity among Irish sites, but Twenty Major ( is probably the best of the bunch and very local
in its focus.

These have in common originality, personal views and readability.

Too many Irish blogs feature "dear diary" warblings, excessive links to articles on the Web or just poor writing.

The dynamics of blogging in the Republic mean that the best sites refer readers to some of the worst, and there is no natural selection.

The better sites listed above are to be found on the blogroll of several of the most prominent Irish sites.

Unfortunately for the brainstormers in Leinster House's press offices, a lot of the best examples like these are cultural commentary, leaving even less room for the political parties to manoeuvre.

When Irish bloggers want to talk politics, they tend to discuss US and global affairs, particularly Iraq. This is a self-defeating process; US politics and the war in Iraq are well-documented, with thousands of bloggers based in Iraq.

Admittedly, Irish bloggers extend their potential audience by keeping their subject matter universal, but there also seems to be an unconscious snobbery towards Irish current affairs - all Iraq and no IRA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Irish political blogs do come up trumps, the focus is on the North.

Two of the best examples are and, both of which are written by several authors.

Gavin's blog ( is one of the older kids on the block, has a lengthy blogroll and is a good place to start reading what's out there and help break into the clique. After all, influence is nothing without audience

I would have been impressed if I'd read this eighteen months ago: As it is, we've another example of some IT journo with a pass degree in English trying to explain the world to the great unwashed. I think that he's missing the point.

Increasingly his own paper is going to have its facts checked and narrow range of consensus opinions challenged by the blogs, our one included. Note that he doesn't cite any of the multitude of blogs that bitterly criticise the Irish Times itself, my own, or John Fay's Irish Eagle, or Mark Humphrys or Frank. Neither has he figured out that a large proportion of the bloggers, Eamonn and I among them, are expats.

Cross-posted to