Inspired by the digital media initiatives of Obama and Sarkozy and the model of the UK government website Number10.gov.uk, the Irish Government today launched its new social networking-based site, www.MerrionStreet.ie, named for the address of Government Buildings in Dublin. Using off-the-self, open-source digital and social media platforms such as WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, the project was built by the Dublin-based web developer Arekibo reportedly for less than €40,000. The site went live earlier today.
Here’s how the government describes the site:
“To give it its full title, MerrionStreet.ie the Irish Government News Service, is intended to give people a view of Government from the vantage point of Government Buildings itself. It will bring together on one website, a view of Government not seen before. We hope it will be of value to a citizen, to a journalist or to any interested party.
In simple terms, MerrionStreet.ie will review the wide range of government activity and then report certain key events as news. All government press releases will be accessible from our website – either by way of RSS feed or by way of links to all government departments. But our central task will be to take a variety of events and report on them objectively, in the language of a news bulletin. We will also feature ‘Issues’ where useful thematic information, not tied to a particular date, is presented.
We use the latest audio-visual tools and Internet capabilities to hopefully bring these events to life. We have video, audio, photographs, text, links to other websites and much useful data which people can share. We are linked to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.”
The site features a clear, direct, uncluttered look and appears easy to navigate. The color scheme is dark blue with light blue accents, a refreshing change from the seemingly mandatory green of all things Irish. The six drop-down tabs along the top are labeled “Home,” “News Room,” “Gallery,” “About,” “Issues” and “Connect.” In “News Room” there is a promising section called “Doorsteps’” where the Taoiseach or minister answers a range of questions asked by a number of journalists together.
Below these tabs is a photo display scrolling through leading stories while a more detailed list of stories is displayed below that, under the heading “Latest News.” In the right hand column are sections labeled “Issues,” “Government Press Releases,” “Gallery” (for photos, video and audio) and the ubiquitous “Follow us on” buttons where the reader can easily click to follow MerrionStreet.ie on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
The Irish website for all things digital, www.SiliconRepublic.com has been tracking the development of the site and reports that Taoiseach Brian Cowen will be among the MerrionStreet.ie tweeters and will include the initials “BC” in his tweets to indicate his authorship. SiliconRepublic also quoted an unnamed spokesperson for the Government Information Service (GIS), which initiated and runs the site, who said, “The idea is to have a single place where people can access all related Government news and share it with the world…This is a Government site. We believe it will stand the test of time and be a key asset for any Government…This will not be a political tool.”
Yet clearly those at the top of the political heap at any given moment will have a potentially powerful new communications tool at their disposal. The Taoiseach was all over the landing page on “day one,” with text, photos and video covering his New York visit and the €500 million innovation fund launched there today.
Now you, too, can be an early adopter and follow MerrionStreet.ie on its social media platforms. As of 9:05 New York time tonight there were 212 followers of @merrionsteet on Twitter and 83 people indicated they “like” the site’s Facebook page.