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The secret life of the Irish blogger
[November 06, 2006]

The secret life of the Irish blogger


(The Irish Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Irish bloggers are not short of artistic talent, but they need to get together to raise their profile, writes Haydn Shaughnessy.

October seemed to be the month when bloggers and journalists finally got to know each other in Ireland. Ryan Tubridy, in response to bloggers convening in Dublin to discuss their coverage of the next election, said on his radio show that bloggers are not on his radar, though the Dublin blogging event was covered by George Hook on Newstalk and The Irish Times and the Examiner. Clearly Ryan's radar needs fixing.



Meanwhile, at the arts end of blogging, the creative juices have been stirring. At a meeting in Cork (BarCamp Ireland) nearer the start of the month Conor O'Neill, a blogger and software architect, asked: "We're supposed to be funny and we have that literary genius thing, so where is the Irish talent on the web? Why are we not drawing the attention for our humour and writing and talent?"

Is there an emerging Irish literary or artistic scene on the web that we should pay more attention to? But first, why does it matter?


New technology will vastly expand the content of Irish televisions sets - and TV screens around the world - from next year onward. And the web itself is becoming the venue for big content deals, such as Google's $1.65 billion (1.3 billion) takeover of video hosting site YouTube. Already, home-grown talent is thin on the airwaves, yet it is as important that Irish creativity finds its place in tomorrow's content economy as it was for Irish software firms to find their place in the IT revolution two decades ago.

Irish bloggers are beginning to make a small dent in the mainstream media. The popular Irish language podcast An tImeall is now syndicated on Galway city's college community station, Flirt FM. Over in the US, listeners to Sirius Star satellite-radio regularly get a blast from Tipperary voices courtesy of British DJ Adam Curry. It's a start.

Yet blogging and podcasting (a downloadable voice blog) are hardly finding their place in the media spectrum in Ireland. The questions I asked at BarCamp were: who are the people using this new medium in creative ways and is there an undercurrent of content that should be connected to the mainstream?

O'Neill, whose start-up company Argolon is developing new electronic publishing software, came back to it immediately:

"Obviously there is Twenty and Swearing," he says, referring to two popular Irish blogs, Twenty Major and the Swearing Lady. But he warns, "neither are suitable for the delicate eyes of Irish Times readers. Rymus could be considered an entertainment site due to his fabulous photos. Ditto Donncha photo blog and his brother Donal's blog, too."

In fact, Irish bloggers excel at photography, and two of the most outstanding are the O'Caoimh brothers. Their record of changing Cork city and county are the kind of document we might look back on in a decade with some gratitude. The photographs of Ryan Whalley, meanwhile (www.glasseyalley.com), logging the Cork countryside and coast, are exceptionally well staged works of art and draw attention from around the globe.

In each case it's their self-taught skills that make blogging a superior distribution mechanism than, say, the local photographic gallery. Is the Irish blogging scene vibrant and creative, as the photography suggests?

"I don't think traditional blogging is as popular in Ireland as in other countries because of the lack of broadband services to outlying parts of the country," Donncha O'Caoimh replies. "The same applies to podcasting: you need a fat pipe to download all the content! Believe it or not, most of the people I knew in college don't have blogs."

If many young students are not yet using modern technology to express themselves, three have done so successfully. Technolotics.com is billed as an irreverent look at technology, politics and the media by three Irish students and for a year it stood as one of the few Irish videoblogs.

Technolotics is cheap and cheerful and it proves an important point. Viewers don't need RTE-grade production values to engage with new personalities. Technolotics found an audience.

Culturesluts.com is another Irish videoblog, starring Jessie Ward and produced by Steve McCormack, both of whom work on the mobile phone film channel Wildlight. Culturesluts covers weekly events in the culture scene in Dublin and Ireland, though of late Ward and McCormack have not been updating regularly.

"Many of those who started a year ago have hit the 20-episode wall and slowed down," says Bernie Goldbach, who runs podcasting.ie.

"There's a need in Ireland for somebody to start bringing videocasting together," says Jessie Ward. "We need different videoblogs aggregating."

SHE'S REFERRING TO an administrative layer that's currently missing from Irish videocasting. Aggregation is common in other countries and in niche areas of videoblogging. It means drawing together a large number of videoblogs and giving them one corporate character.

Once aggregated, technolotics and culturesluts would appear more like a TV channel or part of a theatre repertoire and gain visibility.

Two more developments that look capable of ramping up the quality of Irish blogging are courses at the National University of Ireland, Galway and Institute of Technology in Tipperary.

John Breslin teaches at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI, Galway, which in September launched a new MA in Digital Media.

"At the moment you have a number of integrated solutions out there like Bebo which tends to get more viewers," says Breslin, lamenting that currently the audience goes for the easy hit at sites such as Bebo and MySpace.

Bebo allows young people to compile videos from other sources alongside their own blogs and photographs. Now NUI is offering a course that will teach the skills for creative individuals to use digital technology with confidence and produce the kind of content that will hopefully draw students away from Bebo.

"NUI's new Masters is a way of bridging the gap between film and online digital media," says Breslin, "and it's drawing in students, for example, from TG4 as well as those with an online background."

Within a year there will be a new group of post-graduates with skills in writing for digital media, avant-garde film and interactive design.

OVER AT THE Institute of Technology in Tipperary, Bernie Goldbach is one of the pioneers of podcasting and digital writing in Ireland.

"We are not availing of an opportunity to excel," says Goldbach. "What's attracting attention - scratch video, scratch animation - doesn't exist here. We place too high a value on the set piece production in Ireland, the showcase, when the game is really about continuous production."

Goldbach also points to the problems of getting students to develop a point of view. "You start trying to show them not everything in life is Google-able," he says, on the tendency for people to establish their viewpoints with a Google search.

But what about the two bloggers singled out earlier by Conor O'Neill?

Twenty Major is a daily rant on what's happening in the Irish blogging scene and in politics and society. The tone is angry, ironic and comical and echoes the sounds of Irish rebelliousness down the decades.

The Swearing Lady is no less angry but is arguably more literary with it. Written from a Council estate in Galway and fulminating on the issue of being intelligent and frustrated by poverty and lack of opportunity, Swearing Lady, when her anger is focused, is arguably the most talented writer at work today in Ireland.

In short, where there's talent it may be overlooked, and where we assume talent might be hiding, in the education system, it is not always nurtured in the right direction. Nor is the administrative layer emerging that would raise the profile of Irish talent.

So why are we not attracting attention for our humour and writing and talent? Could it be because as yet the connection between content and tomorrow's multi-million dollar deals hasn't sunk in?

Copyright 2006 Irish Times. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.

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