Dear reader (excuse the familiarity – we don’t know you from Adam) – please sit down, as you may find this hard to swallow. Blather.net is ten years old. Yes, ten years or if you like, 3653 days. This means that this website is racing towards puberty, and will no longer stand for the wearing of shorts pants, at least not in the depths of the Hibernian winter. As the legal drinking age in this country is eight-years-old, we’ve already been hard at it, building up a fierce resistance to the hard stuff, so the website won’t (or shouldn’t crash) during the celebrations. Do you get the smell of porter?
It was a Monday, May 1997. I was at my desk in a trendy loftspace, just off Westland Row, Dublin. Gerry McGovern, one of my bosses at the upstart Internet startup Nua, approached me, somewhat tentatively.
“You were in London at the weekend, weren’t you?”
“At the Fortean Times UnConvention?”
“Yes… I was…?”
I was a little apprehensive – I’d been in the job week when I bunked off early on a Friday to catch a flight to Heathrow to attend the conference on strange phenomena. Was I in trouble?
“Well, I was just wondering if you’d be interesting in writing a newsletter for us on that kind of stuff”.
Nua had been pushing out this weekly email called “Nua Surveys” for some months now, and it was beginning to get us noticed. Now other members of staff, like Gerry and David Moore were also starting to knock out weekly rants on various topics. In essence these were probably proto-weblogs – the “blog” word hadn’t yet crept into the new media lexicon.
I wracked my brain for a name. When I came up with the name “Blather” it felt a bit like cheating, as it was the name of a short-lived journal back in the 1930s run (into the ground) by a man known to most of us as Flann O’Brien. Little did I know it then, but the Modern Blather would grow as depraved as its predecessor.
“As we advance to make our bow, you will search in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. We are as proud as bantams and as vain as peacocks.”
“Blather doesn’t care.” A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?”
(From the original Blather, issue 1, published in 1934 by Brian O’Nolan a.k.a. Flann O’Brien a.k.a. Myles na gCopaleen)
More about “Blather”
On May 12th 1997, the first issue of this Blather went up online (I feel sorry for those poor lads building webpages in the 1930s, when there wasn’t the luxury of computers or broadband and the whole shebang had to be completed under union regulations using bent labour).
The first attempt was called “One of Our Bombers is Missing“, and dealt with a conspiracy theory surrounding a missing A-10 bomber in Colorado. Fairly pedestrian stuff, but I was still feeling my way around. Blather got published every week for the next year and half – and somehow built up a readership of thousands. In the first six months, I banged out articles about lactating men, UFOs, a trawler being sunk by a cow (that fell from the sky), cloning, euthanasia, rains of toads, kidney theft, moving statues, cryptozoology, Bram Stoker and loads more.
As time went on, I started getting a bit obsessed and by December I had been looking into the spate of UFO sightings in Co. Cork, attended UFO group meetings. And I hung out on beaches with UFO fans who got excited about airliners approaching Dublin airport. By the following year, I’d talked about the Dobhar Chu – a very weird lake monster, poltergeists, more Irish UFO stuff, The Hellfire Club, a certain Norwegian fracas, Mothman and who knows what the hell else. I started getting hatemail – which was good, it meant people were taking notice. Certain Ufologists started avoiding me – one particular gentleman doing a runner the day that he was supposed to go on stage with me to debate UFOs. I met my heroes – Robert Anton Wilson and John Keel. I had fun.
In November 1998, I left Nua, and went to work for another company. Blather.net moved to its own domain. Sometime around 1999-2000 things slowed down. I had burned out on all the paranormal stuff. I’d gone in one side of the UFO thing, asked the questions, and arrived at the other side, realising that most of my questions were unanswerable.
I quit that job, and left, went freelance (The CEO of that company, four years after I left, was still claiming on their website that Blather was “owned” by his outfit. I put them to rights).
Around this time, I started involving other writers, like Barry Kavanagh, who interviewed comic legend Alan Moore, and Damien DeBarra, who arrived out of the blue with his “What did the Romans Ever Do for Us?”
It’s my co-editors, Barry and Damien I’ve got to thank for re-invigorating blather.net – there was definitely a couple of years where the website lost its way, and it became an albatross around my neck (and I actually really like albatrosses). They took it in hand, wrote articles, spurred me on, and got me to convert it from a cranky old-fashioned flat-html website into a proper blog driven website.
We’ve discussed, at times, kicking blather.net up a level going more commercial. My hackles raise, the eyes bulge, hair crows on the palm of my hands – I remember the pre-dot-com-bust days, when fools with money were spending their spondulicks on buckets of fresh air. I might have been able to flog blather.net back then – but what would we have now? We’ve never taken a penny from anyone – but our hosting company, Hosting 365 looks after us when out web traffic gets outrageous (and it does!).
We never want blather.net to be work. That’s the bottom line, or at least one of the bottom lines. We have fun, some of it completely puerile (scroll down). Some of it totally serious. We’ve wandered away from the paranormal stuff a bit, and started obsessing over mythology, folklore, archeology, photography, music – well, anything that catches our fancy. I’ve always said to blather.net writers “I don’t care what it’s about, just make it interesting”.
Blather.net’s pretty busy these days – half a million page views a month, and we’re even listed in Lonely Planet Ireland! We’ve been churning out dozens of articles, some of which have gotten published elsewhere. Popular keywords that people are using to find us (April 2007) include:
kenneth pinyan, irish porn, how to drink absinthe, whirlpool, spaced, mothman, pornotube, reindeer, norwegian women, westlife, cristiano ronaldo naked blather, otter, hellfire club, fish, caravaggio, famine, whirl pool, sea otter
You think that’s bad? That was an exceptionally chaste month of webstats, I’ll have you know.
Since 1997, Blather.net’s moved away from its Dublin roots. Barry’s in Norway, Damien’s in London, and both the sister and I have ended up the west coast of Ireland. Though rumour has it, Blather High Command will be moving back east of the Shannon in the future. You may not quote me on that.
Seven years to the day that Blather began – and three years before today, I started working with Greenpeace as a blogger – and I’m still doing that. It takes me all over the world, writing on all sort environmental topics. Sometimes blather.net gets left in the sidelines, and I feel terribly guilty – but Barry, Damien and my sister Sue – as well as the other contributors, help keep it fresh. We’re currently amidst another publishing frenzy – enjoy it while it lasts
Back at Christmas, Damien mentioned that there was a new format on the way – there is… but as I’ve spent more than four out of the last six months travelling, I’ve not been able to get the work done… but it’s on its way. Stay tuned, it may be a long pregnancy.
So – ten years old. Who would have thunk it? It makes me feel old to think I’ve been running a website for ten years. It’s not really “new media” – more like “recent media”.
Check in again soon for the 20th birthday. Now feck off, the lot of ye.