Lots of blogs but few talking about Irish matters

or so claims Robin O’Brien-Lynch in the Irish Times today. To be honest he has a point. It is something I said to Richard back at the blog party, by covering mainly Irish politics he is the first blogger in Ireland to do so. Slugger does cover Irish politics, but not Southern stuff do as great as an extent as it perhaps should be by a dedicated blog. Notes Lynch:

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.

He has a point, my own blog rarely reflects on Irish affairs, but that’s a personal choice not snobbery – conscious or unconscious. I don’t cover Northern stuff much simply because I am not that interested in it. I don’t cover Irish stuff simply because I am more interested in international politics. In general Irish blogs take after their US cousins, international affairs – which almost always means something US-related. Though my coverage of Caucasian politics is a specialist area. He continues:


Two of the best examples are www.sluggerotoole.com and backseatdrivers.blogspot.com, both of which are written by several authors.

Gavin’s blog (www.gavinsblog.com) 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.

Cheers! But Lynch also makes some interesting claims:

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.

Thousands? I wouldn’t stretch it that far. I think the point made is moot. The point of blogging is not to ‘document’ US politics or the war in Iraq – it is normally simply to comment on it. I do not consider it self defeating at all for people outside of the US to blog about these issues, if anything it adds more to the debate than if the millions of bloggers in the US were alone in their coverage. Sure you can go to any one of a million US blogs and read that person’s take on the war – but it’s not my view. That’s the point of blogging, its citizens (of all countries or none) contributing to the conversation. I am not sure if making this point demonstrates missing the whole idea of blogging, but I will give the author the benefit of the doubt.

He also notes:

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.

For a small country like Ireland, and with such a small but growing blogging community this is only natural. I will link to whatever regularly updated blog I find that is from Ireland. The quality of the content is not for me the judge, I just want to encourage more people to get their thoughts and ideas down on their blogs – if me linking to them helps their traffic or their esteem than that’s great. There will come a time when there may just be too many Irish blogs to link to without making the exercise futile – when that point comes, the community will not fragment, just simply gather in cliques of different interests or personalities, which is normal in any normal social situation with large numbers of people. Ireland is only 4 million people, but I would say by the end of 2005, based on current growth, the Irish blogging community could well treble or quadruple in size.

The whole article is below:

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 most prominent 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 all his 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 up on 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, www.democrats.org, 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 ripoff.ie 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 (www.eamonn.com) 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 (www.dervala.net) 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 (twentymajor.blogspot.com) 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 www.sluggerotoole.com and backseatdrivers.blogspot.com, both of which are written by several authors.

Gavin’s blog (www.gavinsblog.com) 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.

21 thoughts on “Lots of blogs but few talking about Irish matters”

  1. I think the author seems to have missed the point that Blogs can be whatever you want them to be. He fails to mention a since tech orientated blog. Karlin’s blog along with Bernies could be regarded as blogs that are Irish based and have made an Internationl impact at one time or another. Interestingly enough both of them are Americans, but that’s beside the point.

    My point is that he’s missed so much of what it’s about, it’s not just about Politics, there are other topics out there you’re allowed blog on! Also isn’t an Irish blogger is one of the leading developers on WordPress!

  2. I actually went out and bought the Irish Times when I spotted an article about blogging on the Irish Time’s website. Dave (above) zeroed in on the essential point that the author missed. Blogs are what the bloggers want them to be and not everyone is interested in politics or technology.

    The politics aspect is very interesting because it is a highly interactive and social activity that resembles a conversation. The politics.ie bulletin board website has that particular niche sewn up. The US political blogging does not transplant well to Ireland because we don’t have the critical mass of bloggers and a large enough audience for a single topic. All politics is local, and the local is often a better place to discuss it.

    There was an article in the magazine of last Sunday’s “Sunday Tribune” about blogging. Bernie’s blog was where I read about it. The IT’s article seems to be an article in a similar vein. Both newspaper articles seemed to be trying hard to explain the blogging phenomenon without making the reader think too hard. The reason that the IT article didn’t mention Karlin’s blog was probably because it is at the end of her Net Results column.

    The interesting thing (from a search engine operator’s point of view) is that the Irish blogosphere seems to be developing in parallel with the normal web. It hasn’t quite made the leap into the mainstream of the Irish web. But the Irish web is mainly business websites due to the traditional high costs of domains and hosting. Irish blogs, seem to be bypassing the traditional hosting model but from what I’ve seen with dead and rarely updated blogs, they are just as subject to the ordinary rules of the ebb and flow of websites. The Irish blogosphere is a far more vibrant and more varied space than the IT article or the Sunday Tribune article gives it credit for.

  3. There’s a better article about Irish blogging in this thread and its comments than in the last two Irish broadsheet articles. You have to blog if you’re to cover the topic with respect to the wide-ranging Irish writers who are currently blogging. I wonder if WhoIsIreland would be interested in keeping the pulse points of the Irish blogosphere? We have a very tasty project in Tipperary Institute that relates to this idea and JMCC would do it justice.

  4. All good points. The aim of the article was to raise interest in blogging in Ireland and get more people involved, and hopefully it will. Of course you can write about whatever you like; I kept a blog a couple of years ago and talked complete smack. But I was approaching the story from a particular angle, comparing it to the American model, and was looking for blogs that discussed Irish poltical, cultural and social matters. I read a lot of blogs every day and I wanted to encourage more participation and variety.
    John is right, I couldn’t mention Karlin’s blog as it would look a bit chummy.

  5. I embrace the fact that Irish people are interested in the world around them (the world outside Ireland) and are neither insular nor parochial. Long live Irish bloggers interests in the world at large. Ireland is not always what captures our attention. We live in a small, geographically speaking fairly insignificant island. We are a population of merely four million. If all we blogged about was ourselves and our island, how boring would that be?

  6. i think the point about irish politics being totally missed, by both articles, is that the one thing blogs do do is reflect the views of their writers. for a lot of us, irish politics, on a day-to-day basis, is boring. our pr system has it stuck in parochial parish pump politics. where irish blogs do reflect irish politics is in looking at the bigger picture, seperating out the daily sounbytes eminating from leinster house and focussing on what is actually important.

    there is also a another point missed and that is the existence of sites like p45 and boards, where local politics are discussed – those boards offer a dialogue, whereas a large number of blogs are nothing but monologue. yes, blogs encourage feedback by the comment button, but those comments don’t seem to offer the dialogue available on dicussion boards. and, of course, we can’t forget a site like politics.ie

    and, one other point that needs to be addressed in criticising the content of irish blogs is the existence of other media. we are well served by national and uk papers, we have a pretty strong radio sector, and we have more free-to-air tv channels per capita than are to be found in some other countries. only occasionally will a story like the kevin myers distraction come along in which all those media outlets will offer same-same blanket coverage of a story. blogs are part of the diversity of the public media, and as such, the fact that they do cover such a diverse range of topics is to be applauded, not to be criticised. and i don’t think any criticism of irish blogs based on a mistaken view that the majority of american blogs are about american politics deserves to be taken seriously.

  7. I’ve been accussed of missing the point by a couple of people, but I think the reverse is true. That might reflect badly on me as a reporter for not getting my point over clearly enough, but that’s my problem.
    I was looking at a particular concept; whether or not the methods employed by Howard Dean’s supporters in the last US election could be used here in 2007.
    The answer is probably not, because we are a small underpopulated island nation (and because most of the people within the major parties didn’t know what I was talking about and had never heard of blogs) and the Irish blogosphere is still in its relative infancy. I approached the story from that angle, came to my conclusion and then mentioned a few sites at the end to get more people involved.

    I read lots of Irish blogs every day and to be honest I rarely read the ones about Irish politics for my own personal pleasure. Like Laura said, I cannot imagine how interminably dull it would be if Irish bloggers didn’t talk about anything else.

  8. I think the article demeaned Irish bloggings when it would have been much more constructive to point out the social networking enhanced by connections across physical communities, generations, and personal affinities. Blogging has done all that in Ireland. Just look at the comments to this post.

    I think the article fell short of its potential by failing to quote any Irish bloggers. There are articulate comments on several Irish blogs about the Dean experience, blogging from austere operating locations, censorship in blogs, remediation as part of online content, the technophobia at the TD level, and the fact that several early adopters of blogging now work inside two government departments where they have assisted in the roll-out of RSS and the smackdown of the e-mail attachment culture.

    Some people are tired of being lectured about how to best do things by applying the American model. To insinuate there are clear-cut principles of best practise percolating from the Dean camp is to confuse readers–there’s plenty to talk about in Irish blogging without even mentioning Deaniacs. I know several constituency committee members who are working on an Alpha version of a mainstream political blog now and hope their work gets the green light before the end of the summer.

  9. Maybe it’s just me but I detect an amount of snobbery in the reaction to this piece. Because the author isn’t an established blogger his opinions are given less credence than they would had someone who had their own blog wirtten the article.

    Just an observation.

  10. i’m generally aware of my own motivation for saying and doing things and there’s no snobbery in my comment. i don’t even know if robin has a blog or not, in fact, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. what struck me about the article was that it was ill-informed, or if properly informed was deliberately painting an untrue picture, not just of the nature of blogs in ireland, but in the nature of blogs in america, which is being held up as a model, as if something to aspire to. yes, the deaniacs used the web – but to what purpose? did it get dean nominated? did it get a democrat into penn avenue?

    and what about the real use of blogs in the latter stages of the election – where the main political blogs had virtually no independent voice and instead regurgitated the party’s line on whatever was the topic of the moment? many, many of the american blogs were nothing but party blogs. is that what robin things ireland needs, more ff blogs and more pd blogs and more fg blogs and more labour blogs, simply repeating the same old same old? if that is what robin thinks ireland needs then i think robin is in need of a wake-up call.

    the point about irish blogs that robin misses is this: if something’s not being talked about, maybe it’s because that silence says more about the real attitude of many irish people to politics in this country. the irish times might think it fascinating enough to waste two or three pages a day on, but the reality of the situation, on the ground, among the people, is quite different. and i think that the irish blogs fairly reflect that. that’s the real lesson for irish politicos, not some lesson about how howard dean failed to convert a cyberpresence into electoral gain.

  11. More politicians blogs would be a winner. I can see it now…

    maryharney.blogspot.com

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    > DELICIOUS

    Mmmm, had a fantastic breakfast today. A whole roasted wild boar washed down with 2 kilos of spuds and a slim-fast shake. Can’t wait for lunch when I’ll be solving a big problem in Ballymun by eating all the horses there.

  12. well if phoenix published ‘de diary of a northside taoiseach’ in blog form, i’d be subscribing to it and telling everyone about it.

    looking at our nearest neighbour, the uk, i don’t think politician blogs are actually working there. the guardian is a good resource on this and is worth checking out, if you’re not familiar with the scene.

  13. Tom Watson MP, a guy I got quite drunk with in the HoC on several occassions, is pretty clued into blogging. He has been running his blog for quite a while now – and knows the score. Clive Soley owes me a pint (there is a drinking theme running through this strangely), for helping him out with his blog, his reflections are considered. Boris Johnson is a little more loose –

    But I would say they are working to some degree, but I guess that would depend on how you define a blog ‘working’.

  14. Not sure the Phoenix gag would stretch to a blog but it is funny stuff.

    Boris Johnson has a blog but his appeal is entirely down to his bumbling, charming turn of phrase and ridiculously plummy accent. It just doesn’t work in text format.

  15. in that case, why not look at something like brian greene’s blog, which is totally political. and brian has been doing this sort of stuff for donkey’s years (i worked with him for a couple of years, but knew him from before that, when i first joined the web in 96/97 and he was already one of ireland’s established web veterans). while is blog isn’t totally party-orientated, it clearly reflects his own political affiliations.

  16. “Tom Watson MP, a guy I got quite drunk with in the HoC on several occassions, is pretty clued into blogging.”

    Jaysus, you’re a big name dropper aren’t you! You’re not the only one who gets into the Palace of Westminster!

  17. I think the comments here are more informative and certainly more action-oriented than the original piece published in the Irish Times. You could have predicted that once Forbes, Business Week and Time wrote about the rise of blogging, there would be a follow-up piece in the Irish media. Both the Tribune and the Irish Times followed the theme but ended up with too much ink describing events outside of Ireland. There is a better blogging story in Ireland and as the buzz around this item shows, the story has plenty of dimension worth explaining to readers who have never heard of blogging.

  18. Jaysus Peter no wonder the Palace has all these breaches of security – the place is as open as it gets. Pass through the metal detector and you’re home free – straight to the Strangers bar – through the lobby off down to your left, door on the right, straight across from the men’s toilets. Heheh And the beer is dirt cheap (as long as you have an MP in tow)

  19. So the concept was to see how American political advocacy via blogs could be applied to an Irish General Election? Nice idea for an article but it is flawed. The US Presidential election was essentially a single outcome event. An Irish General Election has many local aspects at play. And with local aspects comes local politics. That means local blogging with potentially small audiences.

    The Irish Times technology section is a peculiar position – it is essentially a magazine within a newspaper. The old model was that the newspapers reported the news and the magazines did the analysis. A better angle would be to examine the effect of blogging on the upcoming UK General Election as it has more in common with an Irish GE. But that would probably be drifting into the politics section of the IT.

    The article is wrong in considering the Irish blogosphere as being in its infancy. Prior to the advent of blogging software, many of the current bloggers had their own personal websites. The blogging software enabled them to update their sites more efficiently than publishing every update with a copy of Frontpage. Many of these sites would have been personal sites on ISPs or free webhosting. They would never have appeared that highly in the search results either. But blogging software made web publishing easy and opened it up to wider participation. That evolutionary leap from static site to blog was missed.

    The dismissal of the “blogroll” and “who’s reading me” is revealing. Is a newspaper’s obsession with sales figures any less neurotic? Why does the IT include pictures of its columnists? And more importantly why should I consider the opinions of op-ed columnists to be better than those of others?

    There is something terrifying at the heart of blogging for journalists – it provides real feedback from the audience. It makes journalists answerable. And it can be quite a reality check for columnists to have their mistakes highlighted and their articles questioned. Prior to the web and blogging, journalism was a one way process. Blogging added the missing element and changed journalism into a conversation with the reader.

    Blogs and their social networks act as a quality filter where like-minded people can provide interesting ideas and commentary and pointers. The danger for journalists, especially those covering technology, is that they are irrelevant when it is possible to get the information often from people who are the real experts and have their own blog. It is that democratisation of journalism that is a far bigger story than whether US political advocacy methods can be applied to Ireland.

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