December 9, 2007
I created the first social network in Ireland
I created the first social network in Ireland. Wow, what a statement! Is it true? I don’t know, but I think it’s likely. I was with some friends at the Nashville Geek Breakfast last week and the topic of my Irish social network came up. It got me thinking about good ol’ Spotted Galway.
Back in 2000 I lived in Galway, Ireland (I actually moved there in 1998). I geeked-out so frequently at the Internet cafe above SuperMacs (in Eire Square) that they often didn’t bother to charge me. The not charging me bit was pretty sweet, because I was pretty broke.
One day I had an idea to take the concept of “I Saw You” type classifieds in alt-weeklies and allow people to publish them online, for free. To understand how it worked, imagine you’re in crowded pub on a Saturday night. You’re a young, single guy looking for that special someone. During the night you meet eyes with a beautiful girl who smiles back to you. The crowd thickens and within a second you have lost sight of her. You search high and low to introduce yourself, but alas, she is gone. Spotted Galway was “the” place where you could create a free account and post a message about the person you “spotted”. With any luck she sees your post, or somebody who knows her sees it and helps to connect you. This was the essence of Spotted Galway.
The system wasn’t very pretty, I don’t claim to be a programmer (or designer back then), but it worked well for what I had created it to do. The original site was made using Tripod (later Lycos) as the free host. The URL was so long and complicated (and unmemorable) that I used Bravenet to shorten it to clik.to/spottedgalway. There was no way I could afford to purchase the .com or .ie domain back then.
The guerilla promotions we did for Spotted Galway were pretty basic, but very effective. I created some cheap photocopied strips of paper reading: “Have you been Spotted?” with the URL. I enlisted two girl friends who helped me hand them out to people all across the University campus. We even raided the computer labs and changed the homepages to redirect to Spotted.
Spotted Galway quickly became a hot spot online for Galwegian students and young people. It was an exciting time. I began to see an opportunity to sell some advertising on the site, but made sure I would still stay true to my original concept of providing a free service for the users. I approached the nightclubs first since the demographic made complete sense. I almost sold an ad to Club Cuba, but they bailed towards the end of the deal. I gave a free ad to 2001 a Video Library, the local video shop where I was working at the time. I also gave a contra ad to a free entertainment weekly in exchange for a free ad for Spotted in their publication. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to make any money with Spotted. It was Ireland in 2000, what seems like a million years ago since Bebo, MySpace and Facebook have taken over the world.
In 2000, Spotted Galway was the talk of SIN, the University message board. Most young people I spoke with had used or had heard of Spotted. What began to take it’s toll on me was the countless hours it took to moderate the message board. It was far too frequently attacked by racist, homophobic, sexist, or just plain silly posts. I was in there constantly doing my best to clean it up quickly.
In 2001 I moved home to Toronto from Galway. I continued to run Spotted from home, I even upgraded the site to feature a great Snitz Forum – which was a far better platform than the Bravenet forum. My only trouble was that now that I no longer lived in Galway (or Ireland for that matter), it didn’t make sense to continue the service. The time and money it was costing me became ridiculous. Suddenly out of the blue a company in London inquired to purchase Spotted from me for a decent (not comparable to “decent” today by any means!) amount of money. I couldn’t refuse the offer, and so Spotted was sold and turned into Sightings.co.uk (which is no longer around).
It was awesome coming across this post on SIN’s boards when I was searching for the older discussions about Spotted Galway tonight:
PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2003 12:23 am Post subject: Spotted galway
What happened to that website spotted. Does anyone have the intelligence/ability to set it up again. It was just taking off when somebody turned into a uk database of spots. The spotted kind of forum obvioiusly doesn’t work on the international level but worked quite well in the mating/dating game in galway. I’m sure it is possible to rebirth this forum somewhere from the It building, most probably the underground suite.
Somebody please bring back spotted to the people who used it and loved it.
It’s pretty cool to know that I was instrumental in connecting people way back when. I loved Galway and still do. I hope to bring my family there one day soon. I miss the people, the music, the Guinness, the craic. Email me if you’re planning a trip to Ireland. I would be more than happy to help guide you on some must see pubs and cities, of course, Galway being one of them.
So how about it then? Was I the first person with a social networking site in Ireland?
[tags]Spotted, Spotted Galway, 2001 a video library, Club Cuba, Galway, Ireland, Bravenet, Snitz, click.to/spottedgalway, Tripod, Dave Delaney, Spot[/tags]