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.

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)

Articles Life Modest Proposals Technology

Accidental Autobiography

Monday, February 19, 2001

Should you keep five year-old email messages? I’m currently tidying up the contents of various hard drives and floppy disks (remember them?) to prepare for the arrival of a new machine. But how much to throw out is proving a difficult question.

You keep photographs to remind of the things you’ve done, and the people you were with. To remind you never to grow your hair like that again, or for many other reasons. And it feels right to keep them. 

Maybe emails are in the same category, and by this I don’t mean every purely administrative work-related mail, or the newsletters you subscribed to, but the notes to your friends, the jokes, the abuse. 

Photographs and emails are part of your personal history. Every day you’re making memories, and this stuff marks the paths you’ve been down. Maybe burning old mail onto a CD is the equivalent of sticking stuff up in the attic. You don’t need it around every day, but you’re not going to throw it out either. 

And it’s the ephemeral nature of emails that makes them such good markers. It’s a truism in historical study that you get much better information when your primary source isn’t trying to tell you what happened than if you’re reading a considered history from the period. Documents that were written not with a view to posterity ironically live a longer life. 

So the stuff you dashed off to your mate when you were bored in the office one day catches you like a candid photograph. You might acknowledge at the time that this mail could be preserved, but you don’t write it like that. And unlike real letters, you get to keep the mail you send too. It’s an unmediated account of your preoccupations, your worries, your day to day life. An accidental autobiography. 

Some people might argue that you shouldn’t keep carrying this baggage around with you, that you are yourself only in the present, and all that stuff happened to someone else.  It’s certainly true that you can dwell too much on your former self. But if you maintain the right attitude to this personal detritus – a good-natured distance seems about right – then having it around is surely a good idea. 

But why, exactly? You keep all your photos, but you don’t look at them very often. And even when you do, it’s hard to explain what’s going on. 

Wordsworth argued that poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility. Scrolling through ASCII email archives is also recalling your old emotions and feelings at one remove. We can’t say why poetry matters but we do it anyway, and maybe the same is true of keeping and looking through our personal archives. 

So I won’t worry about all this crap I’m pouring on to CD, because in some way it’s poetry. 

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, February 2001)

Articles Life Modest Proposals Technology

Essential Ephemera – should you keep old emails?

Sunday, November 08, 1998

As I write, John Glenn and his fellow astronauts are getting used to gravity again with the completion of their Shuttle mission. 

Amidst the discussion of Glenn’s return to space – take your pick:  heroic adventure, science experiment or publicity stunt – a small detail caught my eye.

It seems that Glenn was keeping in touch with his wife by email. On the one hand this shows how pervasive a form of communication email has become (forget ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ now it’s ‘Fwd: Top Ten things we want Samuel Jackson to say as a Jedi Knight’).

But it also raises a question about the lifespan of an email message.  What’s Mrs Glenn going to do with her extraterrestrial missives? They’ll likely sit in her inbox for ages, and then she’ll either delete them with a whole pile of junk when her mail program slows to a crawl, or she’ll put them in their own special folder, and lose them when she gets a new machine. 

We use email to keep in touch with old and distant friends, to flirt with people we hardly know, to send notes to our beloved to brighten their day at work . . .  to carry on any number of relationships that make us who we are. 

But when it comes to keeping the messages, we’re in a bind. Physical letters somehow demand preservation, and even if we don’t read them for years, we’re glad we’ve still got them. 

The same should be the case with emails. When I left my previous job, and again when I gave an old computer to my sister, I was faced with the task of removing any signs of my existence from the machines. The work-related stuff was easily deleted (who keeps memos from a former boss?), but the hundreds of useless jokes, website references and bits of trivia I’d collected seemed at once hugely useless and very important. 

These messages were snapshots of my life at various times (both the mails I’d received and the ones I’d sent), and I couldn’t throw them away. I toyed with the idea of printing them all out and storing them that way – somehow they seemed more permanent when given physical form even on fragile paper. 

But in the end I saved them onto a Zip disk, and have them still. Except I don’t feel sure that they’re really there. Not because I fear the data will be corrupted (although that’s a possibility), or that the format in which they’re saved will be unreadable to later programs (just as likely), but because it’s hard to feel nostalgic about the contents of Zip disk, however valuable its content. 

A friend of mine recently left his job, and another friend designed a spoof movie poster for his departure. The electronic version of this poster was soon bouncing round the planet as it was forwarded to people, and put up on the Web. But it was a framed printout of the file that somehow turned all the work into a real gift. 

It’s a similar problen with other images. I bought a digital camera on my arrival in America, thinking it would be a very practical way of showing people what I was up to. And so it’s proved, with rough and ready Web pages allowing me to share my experiences with my friends and family back home. But I still find it easier to think in terms of a shoebox stuffed full of photographic memories than a portion of my current hard disk (or a bit of space on a server somewhere). 

Maybe it’s just a question of adaptation, and we’ll soon come to treasure hi-tech storage media in the way we do family photo albums and collections of old letters tied with ribbons. But I’m certainly not there yet, and I doubt Mrs Glenn is either. 

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, November 8th, 1998)

Articles Film Irish Times Technology

Apple’s Mission Impossible

Wednesday, August 14, 1996

Computers in movies have come a long way since the nerdy Matthew Broderick in War Games. In the current hit Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum saves the world by dialing up the alien invaders from his laptop, and in Mission:  Impossible Tom Cruise uses his computer to defeat the nasty double-crossing spies.

With hi-tech movies all the rage, the opportunity for product placement has not gone unnoticed by the computer industry. While Microsoft might look to have the real world sewn up, in the neverland of tv and cinema, Apple reign supreme – and it doesn?t cost them a penny.

On TV, Chandler in Friends, Scully in The X-Files, and the casts of Melrose Place and Beverley Hills 90210 all use Macs, but it?s in the movies that computer product placement really gets big.Steven Spielberg is credited with starting the trend with the film ET in 1982. The lovable alien was seen gobbling Reese?s Pieces sweets, and sales increased by 66 per cent.

Apple was involved in another Spielberg hit, Jurassic Park, and in films such as Forest Gump and The Firm But with Mission Impossible and Independence Day, the company has emphasized their involvement by running a series of tv commercials based on clips from the movies.

?Apple gains the benefit of being seen by millions of people in the hands of celebrities that those consumers seek to emulate,? said Suzanne Forlenza, manager of Film/TV Placement and Marketing at Apple.

?We pay for the production of the TV commercial (as we would any TV commercial we do). In exchange, we get images, special effects, celebrity endorsement, and more, for free. The quality and level of content we are able to use is incredibly high.? she said.

So how much does it cost to have Jeff Goldblum save the world with a PowerBook? Nothing, according to Apple: ?No money exchanges hands at all,? said Suzanne Forlenza. ?We provide the computers requested for on-camera usage on loan, all being due back to us at the end of the filming.?

Apple might has been criticised for not having the business acumen to match their technological innovation, but in this area, they seem to be on a winner.

While they will approach production companies, they are just as likely to have people approach them. ?Frankly, we are absolutely overwhelmed with requests. so we are reacting to satisfying the requests. The good news is we have established excellent relationships throughout Hollywood, so we have first crack, typically, at all the big films,? said Forlenza.

On Mission: Impossible, for example, part of the deal was that Tom Cruise and the rest of the goodies would use Macs, while the baddies were kitted out with IBMs. ?We have a standing insistence that we will only be in the hands of the good guys,? confirms Forlenza.

What makes Apple?s coup so impressive is the amount of money other corporations will pay to get their products in the shot. Laurie Ann Mazur is a writer and social commentator based in New York and co-author of the book Marketing Madness (A Survival Guide for a consumer society).
?Huggies paid $100,000 to outfit the infant in Baby Boom, and Philip Morris reportedly paid $350,000 to make sure James Bond smoked Lark cigarettes in License to Kill.?

Forlenza argues that they save the film money: ?A computer company is able to offer a great deal of value in the computers they provide.  It helps the production save money and offset costs. The less value a product offers, the more dollars they would be charged.?

So both computer company and movie production company are happy. But what about the audience? While it might be argued that using real products in movies enhances the film?s realism, Laurie Ann Mazur is unconvinced:  ?This practice is inherently deceptive – another kind of stealth advertising. When a celebrity endorses a product in a television commercial, viewers correctly assume that he or she has been ?bought?. But when the same celebrity uses a product in a movie, viewers are more likely to accept the endorsement, at least at an unconscious level.?

Tom Muth, a multimedia consultant based in Kansas City, agrees:
?Most people don’t understand that product placement occurs in almost every film, particularly the big blockbusters.?

It?s no surprise, therefore, that it?s becoming an increasingly important area ofmarketing for Apple. ?It?s growing in that computers are becoming standard gear for all types of people in the movies (the doctor, the lawyer, and others) and also in the number of films that have a technology sub-plot.?

So expect to see more Macs appearing at your local cinema. But only in the hands of the good guys, of course.

(first published in The Irish Times, August, 1996)

Posted by David in • Irish TimesTechnologyFilm

Articles Ireland Irish Times Technology

Ballpark figures – Irish companies playing softball

Monday, July 08, 1996

Received wisdom says that to work in computers you need only cerebral skills – rearranging noughts and ones is a singularly sedentary pursuit.  But there are a fair few IT firms in Dublin who would be pleased if you can also hit home runs or catch a fly ball out of the sun back on the fence.

The Leinster Softball League (LSL) boasts 78 teams (18 more than last year), and computer firms making up a sizeable chunk of the teams – the Claris Crusaders, Gateway Comanches, Digital Dodgers and Symantec Hackers turn out against the Isocor Angels, the Oracle Orbits and the Fujitsu Olympians. Even clubs without direct affiliations with companies seem to have more of their fair share of programmers, testers and project leaders.

?I?m not sure exactly why so many computer people are involved,?  says Paul Byrne, Director of the LSL. ?But there?s a bit of friendly rivalry between Lotus and Microsoft, for example,?

Microsoft might be able to take on allcomers software, but in softball, they?ve still got some work to do. ?No-one is particularly fussed about beating any of Microsoft’s 3 teams as it’s not much of an ambition – they’re not the greatest of teams,? says Ann Murphy, Chairperson of the Irish Baseball and Softball Association (IBSA), which oversees the sport in Ireland.

Softball has many similarities to baseball, with batters hitting the ball and attempting to get round the bases and back to the home plate.  The only major differences are that the teams are mixed (at least three women on a team of 10) amd pitchers throw the (larger) ball underarm.

The sport, which now has 1400 registered players, started in Ireland less than 10 years ago. ‘Back in 1987, Aer Lingus played Digital every week for one whole season, believing that they were the only two teams in Dublin,? says Murphy.

?One day in 1988, a team from Texaco were spotted in Herbert Park, who also knew a team who played in Dodder Park, and we now had 4 teams and nearly enough for a mini-league. Two more teams appeared from the Fairview and Clontarf area and all of a sudden we had enough to start a league.?

Now, communication is a bit more organized – the ISBA and four teams have web sites, and email keeps everyone informed. ?For us as an organisation it makes life a lot easier to have email contact with all our teams,? says Ann Murphy. ?Information is available instantly and we can also reach a lot more of our individual members than we can by doing a mail shot.

So are business deals done at the diamonds? Ann Murphy doesn?t think so: ‘Not much headhunting or networking goes on. I think people are more interested in drinking beer ‘

(first published in The Irish Times, Monday, July 8th, 1996)

Articles Irish Times Technology

The Moore the Merrier – looking for namesakes on the net

Monday, April 29, 1996

Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MediaLab at MIT, recently said that using the internet, ?information and community can be pinpointed with total disregard for geographic density and without the need to justify or qualify them in terms of a mass medium.

It?s a familiar argument that the internet creates communities of similar people that would otherwise be separated by geography. But how much of a sense of community is it possible to feel with people, when your means of communication is a computer and modem?

To test this theory, I went looking for a community of people that were just like me, or rather for people that were me – people called David Moore. (This might sound nothing more than vanity, but it?s actually not a bad name to choose: not too common and not too rare, and it?s a name that isn?t linked to any particular English-speaking country).

The first place to start was a number of search engines on the World Wide Web. These allow you to enter a subject to search for, (in my case ?David Moore?), and sit back while the engine consults its records and then brings you a list of sites that include your subject.

Lycos, one of the most popular engines, boasts that it searches 34, 617, 737 unique web pages (remember, a particular site can include a large number of linked pages). With this amount of data to sort through, a welcome feature of the engines is the way they rank their search results in the order of the closest match. So, for example sites which include the words of your query in the right order in the title of the page come first.

Most of the sites that mentioned the name were individuals? home pages – sites where people share information about themselves and their hobbies, jobs and interests. This was perfect – where better to get a real sense of what people called David Moore are like? And what a mixed bunch they are.

We had a catalogue of photographs of Honda motorbikes next to a site devoted to the Appalachian dulcimer (a rare type of stringed instrument).  Then a David Moore whose home page included links to Bible resources and commentaries, next to a scuba-diving, polka-dancing member of the ?pro-active research organisation? Childless by Choice.

The internet bias towards the worlds of academia and computing was apparent in the number of technical author and professor David Moores I came across.

Perhaps a future professor is the David Moore of the sixth grade at Rockledge Elementary School in Maryland, who made it on to the Principal?s Honor Roll for getting straight A results.

However, I was also pleased to see that there?s a David Moore writing sports journalism in Chicago, and another making bagpipes with his brother Hamish in Dunkeld, Perthshire. Unfortunately one of my number had achieved a different sort of fame. David A Moore is wanted by the police in Phoenix, Arizona for violating probation after an initial charge of supplying marijuana.  His mug shot and details appeared on the Silent Witness site – a computerised wall full of Wanted posters.

This might seem like nothing more than a hi-tech parlour game, but it does illustrate some important points. These other David Moores have been alive for years, and until recently it would have been almost impossible for me to find them. Now, with a few key presses I can be taken from the Reverend David P Moore in Amherst NY to the David Moore of Einstein?s Moon Publishing in Australia, who?s been fighting a ban on a book called E for Ecstasy.

This is at once very powerful and deeply odd. While the information I have on these people has given me a tiny insight into a variety of lives, it?s very difficult to feel a sense of community with these Davids.  At the same time as I was meeting these people, I was also completely alone.

It might be argued that this is not surprising, since I share with them nothing but the accident of a name, but even in newsgroups or chat rooms, where are people are discussing things of mutual interest, there?s still a feeling of unreality. You can acknowledge intellectually that these people exist, but they still don?t live for you in the same was as even the most passing acquaintance you ?really? know.

Nicholas Negroponte elides ?information and community?, blurring the distinction between them. Perhaps this is because virtual communities sound much more exciting than piles of disconnected information, but that?s all the internet largely is at the moment.

This is not to underestimate it – it offers some invaluable resources.  However, it also offers much more information that is largely irrelevant to you but mildly diverting, and still more that is completely useless.  It?s like a cross between an encyclopaedia and an extended gossip column, not a set of communities.

(first published in The Irish Times, Monday April 29th, 1996)

Articles Film Irish Times Technology

Garbage in, garbage out – technology in movies

Thursday, January 11, 1996

Bullock’s character still has to defeat the leading bad guy by hitting him over the head with a heavy object

Suddenly our movie screens are about to become computer screens, as Hollywood releases a crop of films about the Internet and virtual reality. Just when you thought the cinema was the only place you could escape from the media hype, it appears that swords and kilts are yesterday’s news.

The Net, starring Sandra Bullock, started the process here last autumn.  Johnny Mnemonic (starring Keanu Reeves) is due next month, and Virtuosity (with Denzel Washington) is on its way. These are big-name stars, and the films have the budgets to match, but their directors and writers insist they are thoughtful and timely examinations of how technology is changing our lives.

‘I see it as a fable for the information age,’ says Johnny Mnemonic’s writer William Gibson. ‘The film is a cautionary tale about how technology can expand our minds and horizons and how it can also reflect the worst of what we’ve become,’ says Brett Leonard, the director of Virtuosity.

However, there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip and these films are not topical and interesting explorations of identity and humanity but familiar action thrillers with unconvincing depictions of computers threatening to conquer the world. More jumping on the bandwagon than surfing the new wave.

The Net is set in the present and shows how dependent we all are on information about us held on computers. Criminals wipe out all trace of software expert Angela Bennett (played by Sandra Bullock) when she receives a floppy disk containing secret information. Angela’s ability to run her life without leaving her computer (including ordering a pizza over the Internet) makes her particularly vulnerable to such an attack.

The film, directed by Irwin Winkler, depicts her sheltered and high-tech life convincingly, but when she leaves her desk, she leaves the best part of the film behind her. We get a depressingly familiar list of chases and car crashes – there is even a chase scene in a fun fair – and despite her technological prowess, Bullock’s character still has to defeat the leading bad guy by hitting him over the head with a heavy object.

The biggest problem, however, is that for all its pretensions, the film has a very confused approach to technology, The Net is full of holes.  It sets out to raise valid questions about the role of computers in our lives, but then distorts the truth about this for the sake of the plot.

The studio argues that The Net describes a world in which good hackers can log into remote computers and alter any information they choose: flight plans, top-secret government information, even someone’s identity. Of course, there are files containing information about all of us stored on computers but there is no way any of these confidential files can be changed using the Internet.

Just because computers got clever doesn’t mean the people looking after them got stupid. Most organisations charged with storing personal data just don’t allow any dial-up access to the computers containing the records.

The film plays on people’s fears of computers. The audience is given what has come to be the cinematic party line on computers – they’re smarter than we are, they’re no substitute for real life, and sometimes even pulling out the plug won’t stop them.

In their Hollywood incarnation, computers make excellent bad guys in action films, except that they don’t wear black and they don’t move around a lot. Virtuosity overcomes this by bringing a database of serial killers to life. One American reviewer commented that the film resembles its computerised villain – all flash and no flesh – and certainly the closest it gets to virtual reality is in being virtually the same as many other technological chase and kill movies.

The most eagerly-awaited film in the incoming wave of computer films is Johnny Mnemonic, adapted by William Gibson from his own impressive short story. Gibson coined the phrase ‘cyberspace’ in his novel Neuromancer and might be expected to produce something thoughtful. ‘Johnny Mnemonic is phrased as an action-chase piece, but our real agenda is a little more serious than that,’ Gibson has said.

Unfortunately, this agenda seems to have been lost in the $30 million budget and curious cast. Keanu Reeves stars as the man who has had his memory removed so he can act as a human courier for computer data, and he is supported by rock singer Henry Rollins, rap artist Ice-T and musclebound Scandinavian Dolph Lungren. On its release in America earlier this year, it received only moderate reviews.

What is so frustrating about these films is that they are wasted opportunities to examine more deeply the issues they only touch on amid the chases and fights. There are good films to be made on the problems of identity in such an interconnected world and attempts to explore how our lives will be changed by technological advances would be very welcome.

Perhaps the action thriller genre employed by The Net, Virtuosity and Johnny Mnemonic just isn’t the right one to discuss this material. One wonders if studio bosses thought, ‘we have to make films about computers to cash in on all the Internet hype, but because computers are inherently boring we’d better throw in some explosions and shootings.’

Hollywood thrillers can hardly be said to reflect real life, and it’s in everyone’s daily life that the real impact of this technology is being felt. There’s a computer programmers’ acronym that is appropriate here:  GIGO, standing for ‘garbage in, garbage out.’

If you make a basic error at the start, you’ll get nonsense at the end.  If Hollywood still gives us the old cliches about computers, then its films will fail to address an important area that could really do with some artistic interpretation.

(first published in The Irish Times, Thursday, January 11th, 1996)

Posted by David in • Irish TimesTechnologyFilm

Articles Irish Times Technology

A blast from the past – retro gaming

Monday, November 27, 1995

Nostalgia has arrived in the hi-tech world of computers. Normally so concerned with bigger, faster and newer, it now appears that the next big thing could be smaller, slower and older. Remember those Atari videogames from the eary 80s? Well, they’re back.

As part of the current taste for retro-chic, people who grew up with Defenders, Space Invaders and Pac Man are now looking to play these games again.

Old and new are coming together in a rewarding way, with the internet being used to help enthusiasts swap information on retrogaming. Now you can use your Pentium-driven PC to visit websites and newsgroups devoted to consoles and home computers that could only muster 48K of memory, 16 colours, blocky graphics and tinny sound.

But this is more than just the internet allowing nostalgic members of a minority group to talk to one another – the trend is entering the mainstream.  The System nightclub in South Anne St in Dublin has a selection of classic videogames, and Lily’s Bordello nightclub in Dublin has also recently installed an old Space invaders arcade game for their 80s night on Mondays. 

‘We were looking for three tabletop machines, so we could have competitions,’ said Patricia Roe from Lily’s. ‘We could only find the one stand-up machine, and it’s proved very popular.’ Especially as they’ve taken the coin slot out, so it’s free to play.

The Amusements videogame arcade on Eden Quay provided Lily’s with the machine, and it has other classics such as Hypersports, Gauntlet and Defender which continue to draw the punters.

The charm of playing these games is manifold. Firstly, if you’re of a certain age, playing Defender makes you suddenly 12 years old again. You remember spending summer days inside with the curtains closed so you could see the TV, your Mum bringing you and your friend orange squash and Penguin biscuits.

There is also a rewarding irony in being deliberately old-fashioned.  Home computers have now been around long enough to have a past worth mining, and reviving machines that were supposed to have died 10 years ago gives the lie to built-in obselescence.

However, perhaps the most persuasive reason for the renewed interest is that the games are excellent. Restricted by simple graphics, and slow processors, their programmers had to make the games themselves addictive.  Among gamers, this elusive quality is known as ‘playability’, and the classics have it in abundance.

While modern games are falling over themselves to render 3-D graphics more and more accurately, the old console and home computer games just make sure you’ll keep playing. As Philip Roe from the Amusements arcade points out, ‘Most of the modern games look great, but you can only play them so often before getting bored. And the new ones are mainly just versions of the old ones anyway.’

This is most true of the many ‘beat-em ups’ such as Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter. which are flashier but no more entertaining reworkings of 80s games such as Yie-ar Kung Fu and Way of the Exploding Fist.

Padraig Nallon, a reservations agent for a hotel company in Dublin, has recently started playing on an old Atari 520ST home computer. ‘Marble Madness is the hit at the moment,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t mind a new console, but the games on this thing really get you hooked.’

Jason Browne, editor of the UK videogames magazine Edge, is sure this nostalgia kick could be the start of something much larger: ‘The growing interest in retrogaming is a poignant reminder of how many older games still outshine the latest releases,’ he says. ‘It has evolved from what has so far been little more than a niche interest into a bankable concept.’

Proof of this bankability is the interest shown by games manufacturers.  Classic Atari and Activision games are now available on CD-ROM for the PC, but so far they’re not proving popular in Ireland. ‘We had the Atari pack in, and sold maybe 1 in three months,’ said the manager of the games department in the Virgin Megastore in Dublin. ‘No-one wanted to know.’

Luke McBratney, a classic games enthusiast from Portadown, explains what could have been the problem. ‘Part of the attraction is using the old computers or consoles themselves. Sitting on the floor in front of the TV just feels much better than playing the games at your desk on your PC.’

But if you can’t get your old Spectrum to work, and playing on your PC doesn’t feel right, then the remakes for the new consoles might prove attractive. Retrogaming is proving to be a factor in the cut-throat battle between the Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn and 3DO consoles.

The Playstation driving game Ridge Racer starts up with a perfect version of the 80s game Galaxians – clear the screen and you’ll get more cars in the main game. Also in the production line for the Playstation from games giant Namco is a Museum Piece CD , containing a selection of its arcade classics.

This could prove to be a smart move. Parents can buy the machines, telling themselves that it’s for the children, while being secretly delighted that they get another chance to clock Pac Man. However, they’ll also have to make sure they buy some new games for the kids, as it seems people under the age of 20 are immune to the postmodern attraction of retrogaming. 

Alison Dinsmore, 14, from Co. Louth, was unimpressed with my offer of a classic Atari 2600 with 5 games (price $30 including shipping, from a US enthusiast advertising on a newsgroup). ‘No way,’ she said. ‘Those old games are rubbish. For Christmas I want a Sega Saturn with Sega Rally.’

How long before that game becomes a classic?

(first published in The Irish Times, Monday November 27th, 1995)