Within the global electronic village, the Irish are trailblazers. Second to the U.S. in software technology, Ireland is now also a leader in linking its worldwide diaspora and, in the process, creating a unique Celtic cyberspace community.
An Irish Internet consultancy company called Nua Ltd is at the forefront of this development. Recently, Nua announced Telecom Éireann’s investment in Local Ireland, an internet site that Nua manages and which will bring existing community content in Ireland and around the world online.
"The investment, worth more than $7.34 million, will create offline institutions to collect and publish local information on the web as well as bolster the online operations of Local Ireland," according to Niall Swan, Nua’s director of U.S. operations.
And on Oct 2, Local Ireland was officially launched in Ireland, creating a state-of-the-art Internet infrastructure for the country that every individual, organization, parish and county in Ireland can tap into. Meanwhile, Local Ireland America, taking advantage of the depth of Irish culture stateside, is expected to launch next St Patricks Day 1999, in New York.
"The launch of Local Ireland signals that Ireland is no longer a
follower but rather a leader in embracing the huge opportunities that the Internet offers, Niall Swan, Nua’s director of U.S. operations said.
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Local Ireland takes a radical approach to publishing, with the local
source remaining the publisher and content owner. Irish people and
organizations in every corner of the world will be trained to generate and manage the content for local Ireland.
In each county, and wherever in the world there is an Irish community, Local Ireland will help establish co-operatives and partnerships representing all interests, including: education, commerce, sports, religion, local government, tourism, culture, historical and genealogical societies.
Local Ireland has been managed by Nua since 1995. Telecom’s investment will give it a 90 percent stake in the venture. As part of the deal, Telecom has taken a 20 percent stake in Nua.
The first prototype of Local Ireland was launched in 1995, and from 1996 Telecom Éireann became actively involved. The current Local Ireland website www.local.ie gives some indication of Local Ireland’s scope. This website will be radically transformed over the next 12 months, as individuals and organizations throughout Ireland and the world, aided by Local Ireland standards and structures and a staff of 40, input content and build the first comprehensive, truly global Irish online community.
Unlike other online communities, Local Ireland will not be creating a virtual community but rather taking existing communities onto the Internet.
"More than 75 million people claim Irish ancestry and Irish culture thrives overseas in countries like the U.S., the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, and Canada to name but a few. Supporting this, local offline organizations called co-operatives will be set-up in the 26 counties in Ireland, and wherever in the world there is an existing Irish community; New York will be the first overseas component," Swan said.
He added: "These co-operatives and partnerships will represent all interests, including: education, commerce, sports, religion, local government, tourism, historical and genealogical societies."
"In the physical world we have utilities such as electricity and water," Gerry McGovern, CEO of Nua and Local Ireland, said. "Local Ireland provides the ‘utilities of cyberspace,’ and then lets communities and commerce get on with doing what they do best. These utilities will include an information architecture, e-commerce systems, storage facilities for the huge mass of information and branding on an international scale."
Swan explained that individuals within these cooperatives will be trained to track, gather and manage this local content, while in addition, a community building tool will be made available enabling savvy Internet users to also publish information independently on Local Ireland themselves (along the Tripod and GeoCities model).
Unlike existing portals and search engines, Local Ireland will order
information before it gets onto the Internet, thus allowing it to be
searchable in a much more sophisticated way than is offered at present through keyword and "Boolean" search. Each information unit will thus be tagged with a set of questions and answers, enabling users to locate their targeted content much quicker.
Swan said the Local Ireland organization will generate its revenue through commission on products and services bought and sold through the Local Ireland website, as well as online advertising and other sources. The revenue will be split between the Local Ireland organization that provides the infrastructure and branding, and the co-operatives and partnerships that provide the content and community.
A step further
Local Ireland takes the portal site concept a step further. Underlying it is sophisticated information architecture containing 6,000 categories, which organizes Irish information on a national, county and parish level. "No matter what sort of information you are looking for," McGovern states, "whether it is the history of Gaelic football, golfing in Killarney, Irish soccer clubs in New York, Irish hi-tech business details, or information on James Joyce and Bloomsday, Local Ireland will have it all. Local Ireland will become the single greatest archive and living environment for Irish culture, history and commerce the world has ever seen."
Local Ireland will aim to become the place on the Internet that people in every corner of the world think of first when looking for anything to do with Ireland and Irishness.