The Christmas tree is up, the cards ready to be posted and the garden tidied up for the last time this year. And so 2009 draws to a close. Yes, I’m a little premature but with a hectic schedule over the coming weeks I don’t think I’ll get the time it takes to give the blog the time it deserves. So here’s a quick look-back at what the year held for us here.

The Hughes family Christmas tree 2009

The Hughes family Christmas tree 2009

In January we started out talking about media consumption and how we expected the continued growth of user-generated content; the convergence of technologies, platforms and content; and shifting dynamics between consumers and media organisations. We were not wrong and in looking back on this year I suggest it is the year when Twitter and Facebook really came into the consciousness of mainstream media and the general public. Regardless of the particular tools, the era of consumer participation in mass media is certainly upon us.

January also saw a nice mention by Damien Mulley in his ones to watch for 2009. Damien as usual was not far off the mark with people like Pat Phelan, Sabrina Dent, Darragh Doyle, Patrick Collison and Niall Harbison never far from the consciousness of those working in the Internet industry in Ireland. In hindsight I would have added Krishna De, prolific in spreading the gospel of social media among the business and public relations community; Maman Poulet, aka Suzie Byrne, consistently offering an alternative voice in the clutter of political journalism; and Mark Little, who arrived on Twitter mid-year and is a staunch advocate for the journey that traditional media must now embark upon.

In February we had the now infamous gaff by Fianna Fail who invited bloggers to the launch of their new website without telling them that they were launching their new website. A tirade of fury followed and a lesson for all in politics (and business) about how not to deal with the Internet community. I’m reminded of a post I wrote 18 months ago and that still holds through, that there are rules, even if they are unspoken. Lesson 1 – figure out the rules before you engage.

In March the conversation continued about how the social and transactional Interwebs needed to come closer together, with many businesses starting the see the potential benefits of social media on their bottom line. I had the priviledge of being the first chair of the IIA’s Social Media Working Group and in April we launched a guide to blogging for businesses with some great case studies from Aedan Ryan of Puddleducks and Michelle Daly of Paddy Power Trader. I have no doubt that in 2010 more Irish businesses will dip their toes into the social Internet. Many will succeed and many others will fail because they don’t take the time to understand it.

In May the Irish Internet Association held it’s annual congress and NetVisionary awards. A strong international dimension, both in terms of indigenous Internet businesses succeeding abroad and the presence of the world’s Internet giants who chose Ireland as a hub, gave a great sense of the potential that exists for our industry. Little did we know that Fergal O’Byrne would soon be leaving the IIA after four years at the helm. More than ever, the Internet industry needs a strong voice to represent it. I wish Joan Mulvihill every success in her new role.

June saw the local elections and for some politicians a reminder that just because you are engaged with social media doesn’t mean that you will have Obama-esque success. July was a special month for me personally as we had a new addition in the family. Late in the month we had a bit of banter about some stats that I tried to pull together on the top Irish-owned website properties. One of the most fascinating discoveries for me was the meteoric growth in popularity of the boards.ie website and other non-Irish social sites such as Facebook, Bebo, Blogger and Twitter.

In August as the scale of the inefficiencies with our public sector became evermore clear the role of e-government in helping to address those inefficiencies crystalised, for me at least. The ante was also upped on talk of smart economies as the Government announced the Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh in September. I managed to wrangle a pass to the event and I tweeted and shared some of the big ideas that emerged. The official recommendations emerged in October. Other than the recently revealed feasibility study being funded by Dermot Desmond for a global cultural university, there is little public visibility on any other outcomes.

In October we started talking in detail about how realistic it was for Ireland to position itself as an innovation island and the need for an online network to bring innovators together. This conversation is not over yet and the reality of such a suitable network remains unfinished business. Would that the idea had a sponsor (such as Dermot Desmond) and yet the role of individual innovators and agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and the IDA should not be underestimated.

I hope that 2009 has been as stimulating a year for you as it has been for me. I will be taking some time out over the coming weeks to pull together some ideas I have for a new project in 2010. In the meantime I wish you and your’s every good wish for the festive season.