Moore Consulting

New site for Photographer Jeff Henig using WordPress and Photoshelter

I’m delighted to announce the launch of our latest website — it’s for Jeff Henig, an American travel photographer based in Japan, who specializes in shooting cultural and religious festivals across Asia. You can check it out at

The challenge

When Jeff first contacted me, he had a blog in one location, a Flash-based portfolio online somewhere else, and a Photoshelter site for his stock archive. He was doing a good job keeping them all up to date, but each had a different look and feel, and navigating between them was confusing for visitors.

He was looking to integrate all three parts of his web presence under one design and navigation system to present a more polished and professional image, and make things easier for potential stock buyers or photo editors. As he says,

“I wanted to create seamless navigation and a consistent look between my Photoshelter site, my Blog and also explore ideas on a better Portfolio page. I was looking for a web designer who could fix what was wrong with my current site. The navigation wasn’t right and it wasn’t interactive enough for me. When I saw David’s personal web site a light bulb went off. I knew he could help. “

His design brief was wisely to go big with his bold images, and also to include a more involving way of showing his Portfolio than just thumbnails.

He also wanted to be able to update his blog, portfolio and archive as easily as possible.

Another potential issue was that he was in Tokyo, and I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, so we needed a good plan if we were going to work together.

The solution

The plan we came up with used several elements:

Each had to be brought together under a single design and consistent navigation, to present the best experience for the user.

We loosely based the design on a Photoshelter theme, but customized it drastically, creating a custom banner (that shows a different image each time a new page loads), changing the background colors and adding a shadow box around the main content area.

We also adjusted the typography size and colors to match his logo.

The WordPress side of the site offers 3 main page templates — a homepage that shows a large main image, some introductory text and the titles of the latest blog entries (updated automatically). The About section features a 2-column design, making it easy for Jeff to add more pages to this section if he needs to, as the sublevel navigation adjusts on the fly.

Jeff wanted the blog’s content area to be as wide as possible, as he would be posting lots of photographs. We designed it so he could include photos up to 870 pixels wide, placing a utility area at the bottom of the page to give access to monthly and category archives.

With a few tweaks to the CSS, the Photoshelter galleries fitted in seamlessly for the Gallery/Stock section. You can browse the collections and galleries, as well as search for particular topics while the layout and navigation is exactly the same as the rest of the site. Unless you were paying attention to the address bar, you’d never know you were actually on the Photoshelter site.

Incorporating Fluid Galleries

Choosing Fluid Galleries for the Portfolio section gave Jeff the flash he was looking for in this section (pun intended), while also making it easy for him to update the galleries.

The system instals on your own server and gives you an admin panel to create and update galleries (and choose some navigation and design options). The galleries themselves are then output to Flash, creating a smooth scrolling look.

The problem is that out of the box, there was no easy to link the portfolio section with the rest of the site. We could pop it up in a new window, but we didn’t like that idea, so I took a look at the code Fluid Galleries produces, and worked out how we could embed a logo and navigation bar above the Flash area to integrate it better into the rest of the site.

Now when you’re done with the Portfolio you can easily get to any other section without having to close windows or go via the homepage. I’ve seen a lot of Fluid Galleries portfolios, but not one that works so cleanly with the rest of the photographer’s site.

Long Distance Relationship?

Oh, and the working with someone in Tokyo bit? No problem. A few Skype calls pinned down the requirements and the plan (although talking to someone in the evening for me while it was lunchtime tomorrow for him took some getting used to).

For sending files and comments and questions back and forth we used the superb Basecamp system. I use it with my local clients too, as it keeps everything project-related in one place, but it’s even more valuable when someone’s across the world.


Jeff’s new site brings all the elements together, makes it easy for him to blog, adjust his portfolio or update his Photoshelter archive. And it’s a custom design that creates the impression he wants across all his web content.

Jeff’s summary of things:

“I was very pleased with the redesign of my web site. The end result was a fresh, clean and professional looking web site. David was very professional and a pleasure to work with. I’d highly recommend him and would use him again for further design tweaks.”

Visit the site:

Blog Moore Consulting Uncategorized

Integrating Photoshelter and WordPress — a quick guide

Integrating Photoshelter and WordPress — a quick guide

Integrating Photoshelter and WordPress — a quick guide

As a photographer and web designer, I’ve built my own photo sites and ones for other photographers, and I’ve always been frustrated, until I just combined Photoshelter with WordPress.

The problem is that photographers’ sites often need to combine both excellent photo handling and display, and also good handling of text-based pages.

Some photographers’ site solutions (especially Flash-based ones such as Evrium) don’t let you have more than the most basic amount of information about you — say 1 page of a bio, and 1 page of contact information.

But photographers might want to have a blog, details on the type of work they do, articles they’ve written . . . all kinds of stuff. This helps them differentiate themselves and do well in search engine listings.

But they also want great galleries, slideshows and if possible, the ability to sell prints or license their work right away.Here’s where the combination of Photoshelter and WordPress is a real winner — Photoshelter handles the images side brilliantly — from slick portfolios to full-on searchable and buyable archives — but it doesn’t do the text stuff so well — we’re back to the one About Page and a Contact form.

But a blogging tool like WordPress handles as much text-based content as you could throw at it. So it’s as easy to update the blog or other pages as it is to update the images. And with Photoshelter’s customization options, that’s what you can do.

Here’s my experience of the process, based on the work I’ve done on my own site (this one): http:/ . It’s still a work in progress, but I’ll outline how I did it, in case it’ll help other people.

I should repeat here that I’m a web developer by trade, so while this wasn’t a fiendishly difficult project for me, I’ve spent years creating custom WordPress-powered sites and generally messing with CSS and HTML, so YMMV.

1) Basic Approach

I had a WordPress installation on my own server (at, and used the CNAME functionality to rename my Standard Photoshelter account (you’ll need a Standard or Pro account to give the customization features) to

I then also chose all the settings and layout options I wanted using the admin panels for the Photoshelter theme I was going to base the site on (Induro — the lighter background option). This meant that when I need to mess with the templates, the layout and setting were at least what I wanted for the gallery and other photo-related options.

Then I tweaked one of the Photoshelter Themes (Induro) to be the basic template for both the WordPress and Photoshelter sides of the site. I adjusted the header code on the Photoshelter so the navigation options were consistent across both sides.

2) Handling style sheets

Skinning WordPress to look like the Photoshelter theme and working out where the the style sheets should reside are the two big issues. I copied the source of the pages and the css files from Photoshelter side and used them as the basis for my WordPress design.

I built 2 sample pages locally in Dreamweaver — the site’s homepage, and a basic 2-column subpage design that would work for the blog and the more static pages.

Then I backed those designs into my WordPress install — essentially slicing the header, footer and sidebar up into different .php files, and creating unique templates for the homepage, basic text page, single blog post page, and the first page in the blog section.

When I was done, my new style sheet (containing all the photoshelter code, plus some extra styles just for WordPress) resided in my WordPress install.

It would be great if the only thing you had to change on the Photoshelter side were the main navigation options (and uploading your own logo). However, the Induro theme I liked didn’t have room for all the navigation options I wanted — it butted them up against the logo. (The theme also uses unnecessary tables, which is pretty old-school — it would easily be possible to rewrite the HTML using just CSS for almost all the layout)

So I had to redesign that a little, which meant I had to use the updated styles in my WordPress install for the Photoshelter pages too. This also meant copying the page background image (in my case, the gray to white gradient) over to the images folder on my site.

I also had to copy some of the other smaller images over — ones for Next and Previous arrows, for example.

3) Result

I now have a consistent look and feel for my whole site. Static pages (like the About information) are run as Pages in WordPress, so I can assign parents and sibling relationships if I want more than one page in a section (like the About section, where I have a subpage for my gear). The blog is a straight WordPress blog under the hood, so keeping that updated is very straightforward.

The site homepage is a Page in WordPress with its own template, with the Photoshelter slideshow and the most recent blog posts displayed (and some less frequently-changed information). This means I can update that slideshow very quickly in Photoshelter, and the changes will be reflected on my site homepage, and the names of any new blog posts will be shown here too, keeping the front page fresh.

4) Suggestions for Photoshelter

In addition to removing as many tables as possible from the Photoshelter themes, it would a great help to customizers like myself if the themes had a navigation bar that could run the full width of the page by default (some of them may — I didn’t check all of them before I started).

Since you’re likely to be adding new links (in my case, to my blog, a home link, a contact page and a page on my Aperture consulting), the room to run more nav options across an existing design would mean minimal adjustments to the Photoshelter side of the house.

Copyright issues — I took the Induro template wholesale, and applied it to my WordPress blog, making some adjustments along the way. I’m not technically sure this is what the Photoshelter folks had in mind with their templates, but it’s easier to make the rest of your site look like a PS template than it is to make the PS side of things look like the rest of your site. I hope they’re fine with it, but a note in the customization help to let us know if that’s OK might put some minds at rest.

5) Conclusions

You need to be pretty comfortable messing around with the inside of WordPress templates, but it took me perhaps around six hours to do the first major work involved in merging my Photoshelter site with my WordPress site.

(I already had a custom WordPress install that was set up the way I wanted it — if you were starting from a default template, or wanted to make more substantial changes to the PS themes, it could easily take as long again or more).

Even though I’m not completely finished yet, I’m really happy with the result. It’s scalable, so I can keep adding photographs and blog postings to my heart’s content and the twin systems should cope.

Drop me a line if you have any questions, if you’re planning something similar and I’ll try to help you out.

Of course, if you’d like me to do the heavy lifting for you with a project like this, I’d also be happy to talk to you.

By David Moore on August 15, 2009.

Canonical link

Exported from Medium on October 17, 2020.

Modest Proposals

New site launched for Alan Ross Photography

I’ve just launched a new site for Santa Fe-based landscape photographer, master printer and teacher Alan Ross.

Alan was looking for a site to showcase his great work, his workshops and his tech-related blog. He explains, ” I had very little ability to make updates and changes to my old site, and besides needing a new look, I desperately needed a site that I could manage almost entirely by myself, with no working knowledge of code and HTML, and no special, expensive software.”

Enter WordPress and Photoshelter. We chose the Crisp Photoshelter theme as the basis for the design, but tweaked a number of elements to create the templates that would work across both the text (WordPress-driven) and image-heavy (Photoshelter-driven) parts of the site.

First up was adjusting the navigation to include all the sections that Alan wanted — Workshops, Shop and Blog, as well as the usual About and Contact info.Then we darkened the overall background (which meant changing the shadow around the main content area), added a grey background to the thumbnails and single image display, and created a dark border to set off the gorgeous black and white images. Subtle tweaks, but ones I think work well.

Alan’s Portfolio is set up as one Collection, so he can continue to add as many galleries to it as he needs to. The searchable Archive is another Collection.

The Blog is set up as a WordPress blog, with the other sections of the site created as WordPress pages. So Alan can easily update both the text and images, while the whole site looks like one clean, consistent whole.

And he’s happy with the result: “David Moore listened to and heard my website needs, was responsive to my questions, and was all-around a complete pleasure to work with.”

Alan’s site:

Blog Moore Consulting Technology

Why I Pay for Content, and you should too

The idea that ‘information wants to be free’ is the driving force behind so much content delivery on the Internet. It sounds good, right — progressive and egalitarian? But it’s a tenet that’s bankrupting newspapers, impoverishing photographers and redrawing the media map. And if we don’t start paying for online content soon, we’ll all be the poorer.

My first job in the Internet industry was in 1995, when I went to work for fledgling web consultancy Nua. Gerry McGovern (or ‘guru Gerry’ as we called him not quite to his face), had this weird idea about ‘making free information pay’.

We created a bunch of free email newsletters about web stuff, and became very successful as a result. But for us, successful meant getting paying web development jobs.

This approach is still valid and valuable — you spend time blogging, tweeting and the rest to show how much you know, connect with people and (hopefully) get some paying gigs out of it. Professional content creators — individuals and organisations — can and should do some of this, too.

One traditional way to fund this give-away is by advertising, but since that’s never really balanced the books online, we need another plan. Which is why I unfashionably pay for content. I’ve worked as a journalist (freelancing for the Irish Times,, New Mexcio magazine and other publications), I’ve written a book (published by the Irish division of major UK publishing house Hodder Headline), and I’ve had photographs used by local and national publications and organisations.

Quality Costs

I know about being paid for producing creative works. But I’ve also worked in the Internet industry for 15 years, know my way around BitTorrent and read the New York Times online for free every morning.

So I can see it from both sides, but the crucial point is this: it’s hard and expensive to produce high-quality work. It takes the talent, experience, resources and time of a large team to get a book published or a magazine issue produced. Think of a book that hangs together across 80,000 words, with not a single typo or unnecessary sentence — every word pored over by people who do this stuff for a living.

You could go to and run one off yourself — and that’s cool — but when you buy a book, it’s not really the paper and binding you’re paying for — it’s the skill of the people who made the countless number of decisions that made it turn out so well.

Same with newspapers — getting the things printed and distributed every morning is a tough job, but not half as hard as having skilled people spend all day chasing leads, asking tough questions, editing flabby copy and checking facts.

There’s an argument that citizen journalists will rise up to fill the gaps left by the dying newspapers, and there are some areas where I could see that work — experts writing about topics they know intimately that don’t involve lots of daily legwork (or being shot at in war zones). But creating good journalism takes people who know what they’re doing and are paid for their time spent doing it. And it looks like we need a new plan for where that money’s going to come from.

A magazine doesn’t need to be between two glossy covers to be worth reading, and online delivery creates a new medium with new challenges and opportunities. But the question the publishing industry as a whole is struggling with is how the hell are we going to make enough money to keep doing this? I don’t know how the new business models will work — Jason Pontin has some ideas more concrete than the usual ‘the sky is falling’ analysis here — but I do know I’m happy to pay for people to do this stuff for me in one way or another.

Aggregating is not creating

The argument that Google somehow renders newspapers obsolete confuses me. Aggregating news and deciding on priorities based on algorithms is interesting and liberating, but there a couple of points here. One is that part of what I’m happy to pay for is for editors who know a lot more than I do to decide what’s important for me to know about. It’s subjective, sure — the UK model of many national newspapers with their biases known and trumpeted sounds fine to me — but it’s better than a simple popularity contest. What’s important or interesting (in absolute terms or just to me) is seldom what’s the most popular.

The other point here is that Google wouldn’t have much to aggregate if there weren’t news gatherers and creators all over the world putting stuff online. Google has many creative people, but not many hardened journalists and photographers.

So recently I’ve started subscribing to more print publications — Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, The Week, Wired, Macworld, Photo District News — and keeping up my online subscription to Salon. If I could pay for the New York Times online (and the BBC iPlayer shows I’m watching) I would.

I’m getting a subscription not because I think the print versions of these publications are the only way they can and should make money, but because it’s the best we have right now. I want these publications still to be around when we figure out how to pay for all this online in a way that works for people.

The Cable TV Model

The Kindle’s online subscription online (which includes print publications and interestingly, paying for blog feeds too) suggests one way forward. In these cases (and with buying books on the Kindle too), you’re more directly paying for the creative work, not the final physical production costs.

People have got very comfortable with this model for music downloads — you knew you were always paying for the songs, not the CD anyway, and so moving to mp3s doesn’t seem so weird.

As yet there’s no iTunes Store-style infrastructure to allow this to happen for print media — you shouldn’t have to pay the New York Times using one payment system and the Irish Times using another. And it seems to me that micropayments per article doesn’t make as much sense as a subscription model.

Having to pay for everything individually (however small the fee) will remind me that I’m paying for it, and discourage use. The Netflix on demand subscription approach seems better, following the cable TV subscriptions we’re all used to in the US. Pay a monthly fee to some large amount of access tailored to you (I don’t want Homes and Gardens, but I might want the Utne Reader), and let me read what I want.

And offer me channels of related content based on topic not just provider — so I can read everything about the elections in Iran, from any of the sources I’ve subscribed to. If I could also see related content from places I’ve not subscribed to yet, that would help me find other sources I like (and might be willing to pay for).

This sounds a bit like an RSS reader on steroids — something that could handle the monetary side as well as the delivery of text, images, video, audio and the interactive elements that would make it easy to comment, twitter, blog and refer others to the material.

But until that (or something like it) comes along, I’m going to give the publications money for their print versions. An economic stimulus package of my own.

Moore Consulting Photography Santa Fe and New Mexico

Lensic Performing Arts Center use my images

Who says Flickr doesn’t generate business? The Lensic Performing Arts Center here in Santa Fe got in touch recently to see if they could use a couple of my images to promote their Nuestra Música show this Friday.

Apparently there just aren’t that many good photos of legendary New Mexico musician Antonia Apodaca kicking around and they found mine on Flickr. One lesson from this is to make sure your images are tagged usefully, as you never know who’s looking.

Another lesson is that you should always carry your camera with you — I got the shots at a lunchtime concert on the Santa Fe Plaza while I was having a picnic with my wife and daughter. I took them with my (since retired) Rebel XT, and my (long-since sold) cheapo EF 28–105mm USM lens.

Here’s the postcard, but it was also on the print ad, and it’s on the front of the program, too. Looks like a good show.

Moore Consulting

Photoshelter showcase my Photography site

Photoshelter — the online photo archiving, display and selling site have chosen my Clearing the Vision photography site as one of their examples of customization.

It’s in the Marketing/Promo category on their examples page.

I adapted one of their templates and integrated it with WordPress to make it easy to update the photo and text sides of the site, while giving it all a consistent look and feel (more details on how I did it in my blog post on Clearing the Vision).

Photoshelter has 40,000 photographers using the service, and they chose around 25 sites as examples, so it’s quite an honour.

I’m currently working on sites for three other photographers which will follow this approach (with different look and feels that match the individual photographers, of course).

Built for work, not just show

It’s a combination that works well, creating a site that’s easy to update, attractive, and crucially built for work not just for show. The stock licensing and photo printing features that Photoshelter offer mean your site can actually generate income for you, as well as acting as a promotional tool.

So thanks to Photoshelter for the kudos, and if you’re a photographer interested in how this might work for you, get in touch.

Moore Consulting Photography

Apple Certified Pro in Aperture

Last week I went to all4DVD in Orange County south of LA for a 2-day training course in Apple’s Aperture. And when the training was over I took the certification test, and passed. So I’m delighted to say I’m now an Apple Certified Pro Level 1 in Aperture.

The course, taught by Aperture Master Trainer Victor Maldonaldo, was pretty intense — it’s been a long time since I spent 2 days solid doing one thing in front of a computer, let alone trying to absorb all the information and instructions coming at me.

I did the training and certification for two reasons. Firstly, to improve my own skills in the application I use all the time for managing and adjusting my own photographs. There are so many valuable tools and tricks in Aperture, that I almost never go back out to Photoshop to work with my images. Even though I’d been using the application for over a year, the training filled out my knowledge and gave me more comfort in all the features.

The second reason is that I’m now able to help other photographers (professional or serious amateurs) with Aperture. Setting up a good workflow, or just learning how to get the most out of the adjustment options can take a long time, and I’d be delighted to offer some advice and guidance.

So if you’re in Santa Fe or Northern New Mexico, give me a shout.

Moore Consulting Photography Santa Fe and New Mexico Santa Fe Reporter

Published in Santa Fe Reporter

The Santa Fe Reporter publishes a large glossy Annual Manual around this time of year — giving locals and visitors lots of useful information and insight into Santa Fe.

And this year, they used 2 of my photos in the publication.

They (very cleverly) organized a photo contest asking for shots of real life in Santa Fe, and chose the best ones to illustrate the Manual.

The runners up (like me) get exposure, and the one top winner gets that and a nice prize, too.

And the Reporter get lots of good shots for their publication.

My shot, ‘All in a Row’, was used to illustrate a piece on Santa Fe architecture.

‘Don Diego and his posse’ (above) accompanied a piece on the Fiestas we celebrate here in the Fall.

Result all round, I’d say.

And a tip of the hat to Marci, for persuading me to enter.

Moore Consulting Photography

Published in JPG Magazine Print edition

An article of mine is featured in the latest print edition of the photography magazine, JPG, that’s just arrived in my mailbox.

The article — called ‘Prime Suspect’ — is a hymn of praise to the cheap and cheerful Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens. They included three of my photographs to accompany the article.

JPG is a high quality print magazine available throughout the US, that has over 100,000 members contributing articles and photographs to its website. Members vote on the things they like, but an editorial panel makes the final print version.

So I’m well chuffed to have made it in. Especially as this combination of photography, journalism and the Web is an area I’m going to explore in more depth in my own big project in the New Year. More on that later, but for now, feel free to rush out and buy a copy of the mag.

Articles Ireland Modest Proposals Technology

Business as usual – the rise and fall of Nua

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Name the year: in January, a huge earthquake hit Kobe in Japan, in April 169 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and there was an ebola outbreak in Zaire in May. In October, O. J. Simpson was acquitted of double murder.

In the entertainment world, Sony released the first PlayStation, ‘Forrest Gump’ won the Best Film Oscar, and the album releases included Leftfield’s ‘Leftism’ and ‘The Bends’ from Radiohead.

Economically, things were looking up in Ireland. Encouraged by tax breaks and a skilled young workforce, 30% of all US high-tech investment in Europe was coming to the country, led by companies such as Microsoft and Gateway. Overseas investment in Ireland created 6,500 new jobs in the year. Irish-owned companies were also enjoying success – in April CBT Systems became the first Irish firm to be quoted on the tech-heavy NASDAQ.

Still not sure when all this happened? It was 1995, the year that also saw the foundation of a company that was to become the high-profile poster-boy of Irish internet start-ups.

December 1995 – 16 million people online worldwide

Nua was the brainchild of Gery McGovern, a jobbing journalist originally from Longford, and Niall O’Sullivan, who ran a design shop, O’Sullivan Associates (OSA), producing architectural models, product design prototypes and computer graphics. McGovern was writing for Hot Press at the time, but in the early 90s he’d been on the other side of the microphone, performing as a rap artist at The Underground on Dame Street. The Underground went on to become the lap-dancing club Lapello; McGovern went on to become CEO of companies with a combined valuation of around �100 million.

O’Sullivan was working on early designs of a new type of football boot with the former Liverpool footballer Craig Johnston (the boot would evolve into the Adidas Predator), and he called in McGovern to help with the marketing documents for the job.

McGovern had written a report for the government development agency Forbairt called ‘Ireland: the digital age, the internet’, and he persuaded O’Sullivan that this area was something they should explore as a business. “I’d always thought wouldn’t it be great to be around at the beginning of something?” recalls McGovern. “And I felt from the first time I saw the internet that it would create a revolution of some sort.”

They looked for someone with an understanding of the underlying technology, and found Antoin O’Lachtnain, who was then a psychology and philosophy student at Trinity. A quietly spoken, slightly stooped young man who never seemed completely comfortable in his own skin, he had been helping out at the fledgling ISP Internet Eireann when he ran into McGovern.

Up to this point the internet had been the preserve of an intense, idealistic and technically literate community. However, the birth of the browser that had prompted Netscape’s stellar debut on the NASDAQ was also making the internet much more accessible to a wider audience.

In October 1995 Wired magazine voted ‘Quantifying the Net’ top of its hype list, declaring, “As businesses move onto the Net, their first instinct is to map it. Hence the hype surrounding demographic everything from web-user tracking to demographic studies to smart indexes.” They came to a baleful conclusion, “The Net is going to start looking very different – and a lot more prosaic.”

Things might have seemed prosaic to the dudes at Wired (in the same issue they judged it ‘tired’ to have an email address on your business card, preferring a new-fangled URL), but they seemed pretty exciting for the Nua founders. The new company moved into OSA’s studio off Westland Row, and borrowed some of its staff early on.

Work was difficult to come by, but the relaxed atmosphere in the studio was appealing. “One day I was making a TV, one day I was working on graphics for a site, and one day I was painting the stairs,” says Fergal Lawler, who became the lead designer at Nua. “The main attraction was the people there – it felt like a social club.”

December 1996 – 36 million people online worldwide

The early arrivers came from a range of backgrounds (including industrial design and post-doctoral mathematics) but shared a certain maverick nature. All were curious about the new medium and keen to learn, and although they lacked business experience, they were willing to take a chance on something that had hardly registered with the wider public in Ireland at that stage.

“We called every medium and large-sized company in the country, and nobody wanted a website,” says McGovern. In the end their first client site was for a small American company, Viewprint. But McGovern continued to raise the profile of the company with two weekly email newsletters.

New Thinking outlined McGovern’s vision for the new digital age in suitably breathless prose. In a July 1996 edition he described the workers of the new economy: “They will dig in the fertile soil of The Land Of Imaginations, where the Medium is the Communication. The future is not about opening mines. The future is about opening minds.” This last refrain was recorded for use as an audio clip on Nua’s grey Celtic-tinged website, but when spoken it sounded a lot like: “The future is not about opening mines. The future is about opening mines”, which made even less sense.

The second newsletter, Nua Internet Surveys, synopsised the press releases of reports on internet demographics and presented them in an accessible form. With the number of websites doubling every 50 days, there was a great demand for information, but the full reports from bodies such as Jupiter Communications and IDC ran to hundreds of pages and cost hundreds of dollars. By serving up summaries, Nua offered businesses and academics what they wanted, while associating themselves with a depth of research and analysis that they couldn’t afford to have.

McGovern says that he came up with the idea for Internet Surveys from listening to rap music, with the sampling on the tracks suggesting to him the synopsising of survey data. Whatever its origins, it was an inexpensive marketing coup, and a European award towards the end of 1996 showed that the company was on the right lines with its own site, even if clients were hard to find.

The first big break came when Nua was hired to build a large site for Telecom Eireann (now Eircom) as it moved into the service provider market. More staff were needed, and here I have to come clean – I was one of the new recruits, hired to write and edit reviews of websites for the Doras directory of Irish and international sites.  My head was full of stories of San Francisco start-ups with funky working practices and skateboarding CEOs. Nua’s open plan, wooden-floored studio in a converted industrial building was about as close as I was going to get in Dublin.

My interview for the job had been bizarre. Having found the door to the office down a dark and dodgy backstreet almost under Pearse Station, I was shown into the meeting room below the studio. McGovern entered, wearing a yellow casual shirt and a knitted waistcoat. He folded his tall angular body into a chair and began talking in a quiet but intense voice, describing his plans for Nua’s sister company, Local Ireland. Nua’s website design and consultancy would pay the bills, but it was clear Local Ireland was McGovern’s real love. It was an infrastructure to collect and catalogue everything you would ever need to know about Ireland, and from this digital soil, I was told, endless opportunities would grow. He hardly asked me anything about myself or my experience, but it sounded interesting if a little off the wall, so I joined the company and started digging.

We were all making it up as we went along – the management included. “In reality, there was no plan,” says McGovern. “We created plans as we went along, but not from the beginning.”

McGovern had never even worked in an office before, O’Lachtnain had left college without finishing his degree, and O’Sullivan was running two companies at once. But between the banter across the studio and the long evening sessions in The Gingerman pub round the corner, we were a clever if wayward bunch that knew a little bit more about the internet than our clients, which was all we needed.

Work started to arrive, and it seemed as if normal rules didn’t apply. We were called into established companies like insurers ArkLife and lawyers McCann Fitzgerald and we dictated our terms. Seeing McGovern in action in these meetings was startling – the quiet awkward figure who never stayed long in the pub was replaced with an earnestly confident speaker who dominated proceedings.

We wouldn’t just produce shovelware, putting clients’ brochures online – they would have to involve all the departments in the organisation in the discussion about the site, and they would have to change the way they worked. Then we’d build them a website. None of us had any background in business consulting, but that didn’t matter, because we offered ‘new thinking for the digital age’. It said so on our business cards.

These real companies seemed to like our unconventional approach. During meetings at the Nua office, one of the partners would lead clients up the stairs into the studio to survey the dressed-down staff, the creative chaos of our desks and our obligatory basketball hoop. LTJ Bukem or Future Sound of London would be blasting from the hi-fi, and the suits would be led back downstairs again before someone put on The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’.

December 1997 – 101 million people online worldwide

The sites we were building had a consistency of approach that was based on McGovern’s thinking about the Web, which hasn’t changed much in the intervening years: it’s not about the most bleeding edge technology, or about flashy attention-grabbing visuals. “The internet is on the surface a very boring library, and the excitement is in finding the book, not in browsing the shelves,” he says. It’s no surprise that the sites built to this philosophy are not the most spectacular. Trawling back through old Nua jobs using the invaluable Wayback Machine (www., you see the same framework very clearly: main navigation across the top, secondary navigation down the side, and standard links like What’s New and Contact.

As a designer, Fergal Lawler found this constricting. “There was no experimentation,” he says. “We joked about building a website-o-matic you could use to enter in the content and it would spit out the site following one of the Nua templates.”

But focus on the content side of website design was at the expense of the technical and practical elements of the actual construction. “The project manager label was given to anyone who wasn’t a techie or a designer, whether or not they knew what project management was,” says Tony Byrne, who set up Nua’s first network, and was involved in much of the early programming work.

In the quiet times in the studio, staff worked on the Nua company folklore. A comedy epic was circulated involving Guru Gerry and his digital waistcoat, and Lawler created a set of spoof film posters – including the Nua managers in ‘The Usual Suspects’ lineup, and an ‘X-Files’ take on the long-promised share options that included the tagline, ‘I want to believe’.

Everyone wanted to believe. McGovern’s newsletters reached the in-boxes of decision-makers in prominent companies, and a blindly enthusiastic Irish press were delighted to have their own dotcom success story to write about.

“In the mid 1990s only one Irish newspaper had a computing page, and only a

handful of Irish journalists had email,” says Mick Cunningham, who was co-founder of the late lamented Computimes page in the Irish Times, and later went to work for Nua.

“Sure, the Irish Times had a website, but most of its own journalists had never seen the Web, and wouldn’t know one end of a mouse from another,” he continues. “The net still meant spotty game-players and geeks and hackers, mysterious alien stuff rather than day-to-day business. So the more articulate pioneers like Gerry could push their line with very little mediation.”

The gap between the image of the company and the experience of working there was striking. Everyone knew who we were, but nobody knew we weren’t allowed desklamps because the company couldn’t afford them.

It was a major coup when Nua won a $250,000 contract with US firm Thomas Publishing.  I briefly ended up as project manager on the job, despite being a words person. One day, after a protracted conference call to the clients, O Lachtnain emailed me to suggest I draw up a Gant chart, a standard project management tool with a timeline showing roles and responsibilities for the work. I had no idea what a Gant chart was, but I knew a typo when I saw one, so I emailed him back wondering if he had in fact meant ‘a giant chart’.

The larger the sites became the more they resembled software development projects rather than publishing work, requiring careful planning and solid procedures, but Tony Byrne was still getting specifications for the Thomas Publishing job written on Post-it Notes. “It was like working by Chinese whispers,” he recalls.

I left before the project was completed, when someone offered me a job in the town of Manhattan, Kansas. The wide-open prairies seemed a useful antidote to working with clients who didn’t know what they wanted, and managers too busy and inexperienced to keep them to the agreed deliverables.

As 1998 began, the company had an office in New York, a staff of 34 and a high profile at home and abroad. All seemed well on the surface, but there was frantic paddling going on underneath. The primary concern was to secure funding:
“In the whole six years, I’d say there were only six months when there wasn’t pressure,” says McGovern. This respite came in the form of a major investment from Telecom Eireann, which in June 1998 invested IRP5 million – IRP1.3 million for a 20% stake in Nua, and IRP4 million for 90% of Nua’s sister company Local Ireland.

Appropriately enough, the deal was signed in the bar of the Alexander Hotel round the corner from the office. The leps, as the staff called themselves, had decamped from The Gingerman after it had become too popular following a renovation. The Western-themed bar upstairs was particularly upsetting for a group who saw themselves as cowboys on a very different sort of new frontier.

September 1998 – 147 million people online worldwide

Nua was no longer a plucky startup, and if the Telecom investment heralded the next stage in their development, it was the move from Westland Row to larger offices on the Merrion Road at Booterstown that underlined their growth. For many of the old stagers this proved to be a DART too far. The funky atmosphere in the bright studio was replaced with a more corporate feel in dark cubicles, where playing music was forbidden. McGovern is philosophical about the changing culture, “Companies become very different animals with different levels of employment,” he says. “For a while it was like this hippy period of business – we can all be profitable and play music and come in late. But it’s about making your 20%.”

But a throwback to this hippy period came in the publication of McGovern’s book, ‘The Caring Economy’. Drawing on his New Thinking articles, the book argued that new technology allowed individuals, groups and companies to meet each other’s needs much more personally and precisely – in short, better communication allowed us all to care more:

“Today, as we move from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age . . . it is vital that we are able to look at the world with fresh eyes and are willing to learn new things, new business practices. It is vital that we take nothing for granted. That we assume nothing. That we question everything. That we particularly question the things that we believe to be absolutely true. We should examine the philosophical foundations of our lives and not be afraid to find that they are crumbling. We should be ready to build new ones. Because we can. Because we must. Because there is no other choice.”

But despite this idealistic rhetoric, the internet was becoming increasingly mainstream, and Nua had to adapt. Within a few months of the move, six of the longest-serving staff had left, and the big consulting companies such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers and KPMG had woken up to the opportunities online, and began to challenge Nua for the larger jobs. At the same time, with almost no barriers to entry, many smaller web firms were arriving on the scene.

September 1999 – 201 million people online worldwide

Nua could see themselves being squeezed: “The people running the company didn’t have the background to run a first-rate international consulting firm,” says O Lachtnain bluntly. So the decision was made to productise the content management and publishing software that had been developed for Local Ireland and larger client projects. Nua began to pitch for fewer jobs, and the consultancy tried to turn itself into a software company. Lawler’s ‘website-o-matic’ had become a reality.

Another driver was Nua’s search for another round of funding. Investment bankers tended to give a higher valuation to software developers than to consultants. “You’d make more money, basically,” says McGovern.

“The message was to expand,” he continues. “We didn’t have to if we didn’t want to, but we listened. I got carried away, as did lots of people. It just seemed in the middle of ‘99 that there were endless possibilities. Towards the end of ‘99 valuations were going crazy, and everything started to go insane. At that stage, we probably believed the hype too much.”

They weren’t the only ones. The best performing company on the NASDAQ in 1999 was wireless firm Qualcomm, which had seen its share price increase by 2,600% during the year, from $6 to $176 (it’s now at $27); Broadvision had gone from $10 to $170 over the same period (they’re now around $1.25).

Despite having very little software development experience, Nua focused its efforts on their product NuaPublish at the same time as growing rapidly – at their height, Nua and Local Ireland employed over 100 people. Tony Byrne was closely involved in the product’s development, and he tells a torturous tale. “We had no idea how to make this shift from consultancy to product development happen,” he says, and McGovern agrees that, “we certainly had a lot to learn.”

Consultants from Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) were called in to help with the development, but as Byrne recalls, “The Andersen consultants seemed to take a long time to get up to speed, and there was some friction with some of the Nua people, who didn’t know who they were supposed to be reporting to.”

Another employee caught in the middle of this was hired to manage content for client websites, but became a project manager working with the Andersen consultants when the company changed focus between her interview and her start date. “I really felt very quickly that the Nua management were crazy to be paying out top dollar to these people,” she says.

With slow progress being made, the consultants were eventually told their services were no longer required.

June 2000 – 337 million people online worldwide

The product they were working on was taking much longer than expected to reach the market, but the company was still scrambling to expand.

At the same time, McGovern was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with his own role. “It was never my long-term ambition to be running a 100 or 200 person company,” he says. “There are different skillsets for different environments, and one isn’t necessarily appropriate for another. There’s a very solid managerial style when a company reaches maturity, and then there’s an entrepreneurial try-anything style.”

McGovern clearly saw himself more in the latter camp, and to help manage the growing company he hired prominent US executive Ray Koch as COO on a IRP200,000+ package. The plan was that Koch should quickly move to take over McGovern’s role as CEO.

With no more consultancy revenue, and very few sales of the delayed product, Nua had almost no income in 2000, aside from a loan from Eircom.

“Profitability wasn’t an issue,” explains McGovern. “It was how many people do you have, what volume of turnover can you get, how quickly can you expand.” JP Morgan were taken on to oversee the next funding round.  However, the company had missed its window – confidence in the new economy was waning fast , and Nua got hit from both sides. Not only were investors now more wary, but companies that should have been buying NuaPublish were scaling back their expenditure.

Nua had raised no more money, and the expected sales of NuaPublish had not materialised. Now survival not growth became the priority, and there were no longer places for Koch and Rob Norton, another big-ticket executive hired from the US.

“The company was designed as a racehorse that would run fast in an expanding market, but the market collapsed and you really needed a cart horse,” says McGovern.

Ironically, at this point work was finally nearing completion on the full-featured version of NuaPublish. “For me, that was the sad part,” says Byrne. “The thing was working well at last.”

In January 2001, 22 staff were laid off as McGovern and the other principals tried to secure funding for the company. The Irish/British consortium Garnham were interested, and McGovern maintains that they were very close to signing an agreement. “We were as certain as certain could be that a deal was there,” he says. Two days before they were due to sign in March, the NASDAQ suffered its highest ever percentage one-day fall and Garnham pulled out.

March 2001 – 458 million people online worldwide

Eircom’s attitude to its internet investments had changed, and there was to be no repeat of their loan from the previous year – Nua had run out of options. At the end of March the remaining staff were laid off without receiving their last month’s salary, and David Hughes from Ernst and Young was appointed as receiver.

Meanwhile, Local Ireland was similarly hitting the buffers. Depsite the Eircom investment, the site and its underlying infrastructure had never delivered on its promise. O Lachtnain provides an overview of the Local Ireland mistakes: “We tried to do too many things at once, we tried to go it alone too much, we didn’t make enough money soon enough.”

McGovern acknowledges that his big idea was a little too big: “Really, Local Ireland should have been a government initiative.”

October 2002 – 580 million people online worldwide

Last year McGovern addressed a seminar organised by the technology company Web Intellect, outlining some of the reasons for Nua’s collapse. The title of his speech, ‘Always Make Mistakes’ is instructive enough, but what’s really interesting are some of the alternatives he offered: ‘Get Big Fast, Go Bust Quick’, ‘From Rags to Riches to Receivership’, ‘The Internet – I Never Really Believed in It Anyway’ and ‘I Still Know Him when he doesn’t have an Arse in his Trousers’.

Behind the black humour of these suggestions is a sense that there’s a uniform shape to the recent run of dot-bomb stories – that the companies were all following a predefined path that can be captured succinctly: people with limited experience but limitless chutzpah make a big noise, attract investment from people who should know better, and temporarily woo the market before it all collapses as reality begins to bite.

In the book ‘Microserfs’, published in the year Nua was founded, Douglas Coupland writes, ‘The industry is made up of either gifted techies or smart generalists – the people who were bored with high-school’. For a brief while, these generalists, who disliked the soulless conservatism of the business world, thought they could make money while doing things differently. Nua’s tagline of ‘making free information pay’ showed their confidence in the reversal of the old rules. Now the new generalists have been replaced by the old specialists – people who know how to run companies. Wired got it right in 1995 – as businesses moved onto the net, it did get more prosaic.

It’s clear that McGovern thinks that the changing business climate in 2000 played a large part in the destruction of the company, and it’s true that the company had to do a lot of things right to get into the position to blow it. But Nua was always a product of its time – its initial success was based on being one of the first full-service web design companies in the country. They did well when the sun shone, but lacked the practical and managerial experience to survive when the storms came and they had been encouraged to over-reach.

McGovern is still involved in the internet (writing books and leading seminars on content management issues), but has no plans to get involved in another start-up. O Lachtnain, meanwhile, is currently working as an IT consultant.

The third original partner, Niall O’Sullivan, seemed to believe the hype a little less and has perhaps done best out of Nua’s collapse. His new company Arconics bought the NuaPublish assets in the receivership fire sale, and has found the paying clients that Nua never could.

The technology media company Computerscope bought Nua Internet Surveys, and is continuing to update the material. Local Ireland is currently in internet limbo – the site is still up, but Eircom say they no longer have anything to do with it (despite their logo on every page), and calls to the phone number on the site go unanswered.

In a January 1997 New Thinking article McGovern wrote, “The Industrial Age bred a thing called Imperialism. A rough beast with fine clothes that was too greedy to live in its own space. Had to conquer other people’s homes. Had to teach them ‘civilization’, so that it could milk them of their worldly goods. But out here, on this expanding horizon, there is enough room for any eye to feed on. We don’t need to colonize the Internet. If we need an acre we can make an acre. Money will always be scarce and there is no doubt that money buys space and all that goes with it. But here, right now, for perhaps a brief few years, imagination is also the acre-maker. Imagination and the determination to make that imagination work can help us create the space we need to live and flourish in.”

Those “brief few years” have passed, and there’s a battered ruefulness about McGovern now, after the collapse of Nua. His missionary zeal has given way to a hard-won lesson: “Business is business,” he says, “Internet business is no different from any other business – the same basic rules apply.”

(commissioned by The Dubliner in 2003, but never previously published)