SLUGGER MERITS a caption and a major piece of coverage in The Sunday Business Post's icon magazine today. Described as "the best-known political website in Ireland," Slugger exemplifies the concept of a social network.
June Caldwell writes, "The site is up and running three-and-a-half years and is winner of a New Statesman New Media Award." Slugger is run by Mick Fealty, an award-winning blogger, writer and political analyst. More from the article:
The site gets 36,000 hits a month; in the last year it carried about 90.000 comments about Northern Ireland.
"It started as a personal research tool on politics in the North, Fealty said. "It was my own professional curiosity that stirred the venture and I was determined not to spout a particular political line."
"My interest originally was to track down interesting pieces of journalism; the commenting part of it grew afterwards. For seven months it was simply me pushing out a log of information with easy negotiable links to good journalism or social research.
"When I began to publish some of the research interviews with key political figures in the north, focus group supports, etc., the interest in the site grew phenomenally."
The underlining motto of the site is "play the ball, not the man," and Fealty encourages open, honest debate without personally insulting visitors with differing political opinions. "I do filter some of the content, but if it were too rigidly enforced, it would defeat the purpose--you have to give people latitude."
Fealty said a big plus for social network websites was that people were a lot freer about going places with their ideas than elected representatives who might feel they have to work within certain constraints. "I'm fairly sure that most of the political parties in the North and the Republic of Ireland read it because people 'stretch the envelope' in ways that are interesting and useful for political parties to observe.
"That's what the site achieves at its best," he said.
"One of the reasons why blogs are so popular is because they cost next to nothing, the cost of running a website has come down considerably in recent times. The real cost is what no-one picks up the tab for, the time that is personally put in to maintain it."
According to Fealty, a website that can track and update news is a lot less constrained than a newspaper that has to rigidly work to deadlines, and this is where its main social advantage lies.
"The Northern Bank Robbery is a great example of how the site works best," he said.
"It was a news story that was really ultra-dynamic and complex--different political parties were changing their opinions hour by hour, it made for a fascinating pathology of how the news changes and it had a very theatrical flow."
"It is very different to a newspaper, if a paper picks up a PA report, it will wait until the next morning to break the news. The site has been ahead of Morning Ireland, Today Programme, and so on many times A live news site can dig into what Daily Ireland is saying about a certiain story, the Newsletter, the Boston Globe, and so on," said Fealty. "You are picking up what other audiences in other parts of the world are making of the Northern Ireland situation without being complex in your reporting."
Surprisingly, the site doesn't seem to attract a lot of "cranks" and is rising in popularity by the year.
"We have to think clearly about our positioning for the future in terms of funding. It's not a good idea to introduce subscriptions. Where it happens with newspapers they just lose online readers," said Fealty.
"We intend to keep this site open. It has to remain as a portal for free access to knowledge, after all, that's what makes it such a success," said Fealty.
June Caldwell -- "Social Networks Flood the Internet" in icon, The Sunday Business Post, November 27, 2005.