Since 2005, there has been a 300pc growth in the number of people forming the Irish blogging community, with in excess of 3,000 people now blogging on everything from technology and politics to beauty and wine.
This Saturday night, Irish bloggers will emerge from their bedrooms, offices or dungeons, don gowns and suits, sharpen their respective quills, refine their rhetoric and mind their Ps and Qs as they come out to party and celebrate another year of writing.
“We’re encouraging people to bring banners – a bit like in Winning Streak,” says arch blogger Damien Mulley (www.mulley.net), one of the Irish Blog Awards’ organisers.
Mulley says the sold-out event will be attended by over 400 people, comprising bloggers and their partners. It will also be a family affair as prominent Irish blogger Grandad (www.headrambles.com) will bring his wife (also a blogger) and his daughter who is nominated for an award.
Some 750 blogs have been nominated across 22 categories this year. New categories include awards for Arts and Crafts, Journalists who Blog and Pop Culture. The awards will be presented by 2FM DJ Rick O’Shea, an avid blogger himself (ricksbreakfastblog.blogspot.com) who has also been nominated for the Pop Culture category.
Asked about the dynamic of the Irish blogger in 2008, Mulley says: “These people are essentially enthusiasts. Just ordinary people who want to write about things that influence them. It’s their own personal space and gives them more flexibility than contributing to discussion forums and social networking sites.
“The latest trend is that many of these blogs start off as niche sites that are professionally and enthusiastically put together and they encourage others to follow in their wake. Take the Humble Housewife’s blog (blog.humblehousewife.com), which covers food. Some of her readers have become bloggers.”
Another trend is that many enthusiasts have turned into influencers with a growing number of the bloggers attracting book deals. Nominated bloggers Grandad, Twenty Major (twentymajor.blogspot.com), Ice-cream Ireland (icecreamireland.com) and The Waiting Game (2weekwait.blogspot.com) have all secured book deals. Twenty Major’s book, The Order of the Phoenix Park, is in shops this week with another book in the offing.
“There are now 3,000 or more people blogging in Ireland today, compared with around 1,000 when the Irish Blog Awards first started three years ago,” Mulley explains.
Mulley himself began blogging five years ago and he has found that thanks to better technology, the blogosphere has become a much easier place to publish and be damned … and, of course, do the damning.
“The technology over time has become much easier to use and it means non-tech people can blog and stamp their personality on a blog. Ireland was slow to grasp blogging but because there’s so much free software available for it now the trend has grown.”
Mulley says blogging gives voice to active citizenship and free speech. “Over the past six months there’s been a massive increase in blogs about the healthcare system. One such blog is www.HSE-Ireland.blogspot.com.”
He also asserts private businesses are taking more notice of the blogosphere. “Dell, for example, has an dedicated customer-care team which monitors blogs for mention of issues and criticisms regarding Dell products. If you have an issue they will get someone to escalate it. This shows companies like Dell are taking blogs seriously.”
Asked about the potential for those bloggers so enthused by the free speech ethic of the blogosphere that they walk themselves into potential libel actions, Mulley says there are dangers and it is only a matter of time before an Irish blogger winds up in court.
“I personally have built up quite a collection of letters from solicitors. People get worried about their brand name and reputation and the first thing they do is go legal instead of interacting with the blogger.
“But there is a tendency for bloggers who are angry about an issue to write before they think – the biggest mistake new bloggers make is they think free speech means you can say what you want, but there are legal implications.
“Some of us know where the fine line is but some people think because it is the internet they can say what they want. That’s not the case, some have been hit with legal correspondence and have taken comments down after they got a letter.”
Despite this, Mulley asserts bloggers will do their best to get their point across and the community is hallmarked by an ethos of self-regulation. “Because you have to link the stuff you write about, this establishes a certain credibility factor. You’re making a claim and that claim has to be backed up. Also, every blog worth its salt will have a comments section for immediate feedback – people won’t give you any weight of authority if there’s no comments section.”
He says that judging from the growth of the blogging community, legal skirmishes with individuals, businesses and politicians will continue.
“It’s only a matter of time before a blogger will become involved in court proceedings. It is growing very fast and someone has to slip up. That said, it is a community and some new bloggers do ask more experienced members of the community, some of whom are solicitors who blog, for feedback before they publish.
“Unlike the press and media, bloggers don’t have an editor with 10 or 20 years experience of publishing to vet their material or legal insurance to fall back on, and it is pure luck someone hasn’t been sued. Sometimes a blogger is right in what they are saying but they are on their own and don’t have the money to fight expensive legal battles.”
Mulley says the Irish blogosphere is seeing new generations evolve onto the scene. “Not in the sense of younger bloggers but just people getting into the scene. We are seeing, for example, a lot more middle-aged and retired people starting to blog and they are bringing a lot of experience with them.
“The Irish blogging community is essentially many different islands with people who have something to say,” Mulley concludes.
The 2008 Irish Blog Awards will take place on Saturday, 1 March at the Alexander Hotel at 7pm.
By John Kennedy