On the dotted line

19 Jan 2006

After almost 15 years of the internet in Ireland, the notion of someone writing a guide to using the internet may seem like putting the horse after the cart. For Alex French, author of a new book Dot IE — A Practical Guide to Using the Internet in Ireland, the timing couldn’t be better.

At present only 37pc of the population has a PC — this hasn’t changed in three years — and added to this, home internet penetration in Ireland in recent years began to wane, dropping from 37pc in 2003 to 35pc in 2004. However, the onset of broadband and the focus of fledgling broadband operators to flog high-speed internet access could spell change. So far 200,000 broadband connections have been sold and Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD has challenged the industry to have 500,000 connections in place by next year. If such targets are achieved internet penetration in Ireland could grow exponentially.

The timing of French’s book is apt because as more Irish citizens begin to live ‘connected’ lives their learning curve has become steeper. Five years ago it was all about email, buying airline tickets and doing searches. Today, web culture has evolved to include downloading music, podcasting, blogging, joining online auctions, dodging hackers, not falling for scam and fraud emails and protecting your children online.

The 160-page practical guide, which will appeal not only to the new computer and internet user but also many seasoned surfers, contains useful tips on getting the best out of your iPod, managing your email and perfecting your search skills through Google. He even helps you get around the annoying use of Zip codes by American sites when registering or buying something. Tightly written and jargon free, the book contains useful glossaries and a web directory of sites on everything from personal finance to pet products for a uniquely Irish audience.

“When writing this I was keeping in mind my parents,” French explains. “There is a steep learning curve today for people who need to get online to book airline tickets and they have understandable fears such as someone stealing their credit card details. Knowledge helps to dispel such fears.

“As people become more sophisticated in their use of the internet they may not need to be told how to use a browser but how to set up their own blog or make a podcast. I held off writing this book for three years but now the timing seemed right. Most people don’t care about high-speed networks but they do want to get music and talk to their friends. There was a need for an independent book that wasn’t trying to sell people anything,” he says.

French’s odyssey into the online world began as a teenager dabbling with technology. “In the early Nineties I was given an internet connection with Internet Éireann as a present by my father. I ended up working for Internet Éireann because I would ring them up all the time and ended up sorting out various Mac problems for them.” For French the hobby became a profession and he worked with various internet service providers such as Club Internet and Netsource before setting up his own wireless internet company Bitbuzz, which has set up Wi-Fi hotspots in many of Ireland’s best-known hotels, bars and coffee shops.

“The internet is there to be useful and not something people should get panicked about. But people do need to make informed decisions,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy