On yer bike!
1 April 2005 | 0
Employees surfing the Internet during work hours is often the cause of a lot of lost productivity. But if you are going to do it, you’re better off doing it in style. And what better way to waste time than with a site who’s slogan is ‘wasting time @ work’?
P45.net (www.p45.net) is a ‘meeting place for office workers in Ireland and further afield’, according to Paul Clerkin of Desire Publishing, P45.net’s parent company. The site has everything from jokes and crosswords to a growing range of weekly features.
Described by its editor Michael Cunningham as one of Ireland’s most “unusual, irreverent and talked about entertainment Websites”, P45.net was set up in April 1999. The idea came from a discussion in the pub after work. “After a particularly long day in the office, we were discussing – or more accurately giving out about – our poor Internet connection at the time,” explains Paul Clerkin.
“People sending around jokes and .exe files were only making it worse, so we decided to build a site dedicated to work humour, where users could pick and choose what jokes and .exe files they wanted. We also knew what it was like working in a larger company, where the workers would have their own intranet and alternative mailing list for jokes and giving out about the bosses and so on. And we were thinking: how do you extend that kind of system to include people who worked in much smaller offices too?”
P45.net was officially launched on, of all days, International Workers (May 1st 1999), with what is described as a ‘typical grassroots dot.com variety’. In other words: “Two or three of us having a beer or two, and then we went home and watched Coronation Street.”
Humble beginnings for a Website that would go on to make international news headlines!
Since its launch, P45.net has continued to develop from a small Website into what you see today. “We had no grand plan and it was very consciously work-related,” says Michael. “We had work-related jokes, a bit of a discussion board about work, downloadable .exe files, and an imaginary diary from a wage slave in Dublin. We also had our email newsletter, The Five O’Clock Shadow – “a superhero for the digital age” — which we send out on Fridays around 5pm. The best content from the discussion board fed into the newsletter, and the newsletter’s contents also fed back into the site.”
Like most things, P45.net wasn’t an instant hit; it took a while for things to get off the ground. “The ethos and the general idea were there, but initially it was a slow burner. it took well over a year to start making an impact and evolve its own clear identity.
Then the discussion forums really began to take off, and P45.net was reborn as the Internet equivalent of Nelson Munz in the Simpsons. (Ha-haa).”
Since then, the site has evolved and new sections have been added. Visitors to the site can now visit pages on sport, TV and film, music, new fiction, food and drink.
“While still maintaining a strong humorous tone in our writings,
P45.net was no longer just a humour site: it was an entertainment zone in its own right, rather than the usual listings-based entertainment sites that were really just talking about entertainment that was happening elsewhere,” says Michael. “We were generating a huge amount of our own content, and in October 2000 P45.net won the Jury’s Prize at the IP Top Content Awards in Zurich. This was definitely a turning point, proof that developing original content alongside a thriving online community was the way to go.”
Next on the list was developing a satirical newspaper, christened The Ballyhoo Examiner. Fictional businesses were built up around the newspaper, and their sites now exist at Ballyhootown.com (www.ballyhootown.com).
“Other developments included a total of five e-mail newsletters — The Five O’Clock Shadow was joined by the P45 Joke of the Day, Couch Spud (TV and film previews), T.B.O (The Bleedin’ Obvious — humour with a technological bent), and the Ballyhoo Examiner’s own fortnightly newsletter,” explains Michael. “And the site kept picking up the awards. For example last year it won two awards in the first Zeddies, for Best E-zine and Best Arts & Culture site.” More recently, the site picked up a Golden Spider for Best Entertainment Website in this year’s awards.
The discussion forums are still at the heart of the Website, according to Paul Clerkin. “They’ve quickly become Ireland’s liveliest and biggest online discussion forum, and members have posted over 700,000 messages,” he says. “Thousands of regulars use the boards to meet, chat, joke, flirt (a lot), rant, complain, do flat-sharing arrangements, reveal intimate problems and swap advice, give job-hopping stories and generally share their experiences of life after the Celtic Tiger.”
In fact, it was in the discussion forums that P45.net’s most notorious moment was devised.
“We thought it would be fun to produce a fake story to see how fast it would go around the Net, and how it would mutate as it traveled,” says Paul. “So we asked our forum users to suggest some stories. One, who goes by the name of Homer, suggested two Irish kids getting arrested for speaking Irish in Springfield, Illinois. We liked it, and it quickly leaked out to various email lists.” By that afternoon, the story had already been featured on Gareth O’Callaghan’s 2FM radio show as fact. Unison’s breaking news also featured it, and the Irish Mirror carried the story the next day, complete with ‘quotes’ from one of the non-existent Irish speakers.
“Our discussion boards went ballistic, as regulars report back about the latest sighting of the story — how they’d just heard about the Irish students in a pub, or had heard it on another radio station,” says Michael. “Finally a newspaper based in Springfield followed through on the story and declared it an urban legend. A couple of days later, they featured us in an article, as did many other newspapers in the wake of the disclosure that it was a fake story. It was great fun.”
So where now for P45.net? What does it have in store for bored office workers in the future? Michael is playing his cards close to his chest on that one: “That would be telling!”