Highlights From BlogTalk 2010: Day Two

Ruairí McKiernan speaking at BlogTalk 2010.

The second day of the conference proved just as valuable as the first, starting with Stowe Boyd talking us through his “web of flow” theory and how it is all about the streams.

He was followed by Ruairí McKiernan inspiring the crowd with the story of SpunOut.ie. Fergus Hurley talked about his experiences doing business in Silicon Valley and Laurent Walter Goix spoke of bringing it back to “context” from a telecoms perspective. Ronan Skehill outlined how “Apps Are Bad”, and after a healthy debate around this idea we went to lunch.

Perhaps one of my favourite sessions from the conference was Deanna Lee‘s talk about engagement and The New York Public Library.

Various other presentations filled the afternoon; but again the highlight of the day was the panel discussion on location-based social networks.

Location-Based Social Networking Panel Discussion

The panel discussion was one of great interest for those of us who live in Ireland as it seems we are the only ones in the country who seem to be using location-based devices so far. Equally important is the impact such technology has on our behaviour.

Mark Cahill led the discussion, walking us through the various location based networks: Foursquare, of course, WeePlaces.com, Google Latitude, Gowalla, Plancast, and now Facebook Places. Mark put it very simply: it’s about relevance and if you’re in the right place, right time… that’s relevant.

Fergus Hurley outlined that despite the launch of Facebook Places, Foursquare still has potential due to it’s gaming elements. I’d have to agree, considering this is the appeal that it also has for me at the moment. But I think what we needed to contemplate was what would be the motivation for “checking in”? Fergus also touched on this when he said that he thought people would check in somewhere that they wanted other people to know about. Say for example, me checking in when in Spain while I was on holiday to remind everyone that I was somewhere sunny and when they were probably stuck in the Irish rain!

A debate ensued about the behaviour from one generation to another (and how “generations” may not mean years now but months) and that younger generations will adapt to sharing where they are at all times. Only question left to answer is which one of the networks will be king. It seemed Facebook was the popular, but very unpopular, choice for most.

We Should All Support SpunOut.ie

Ruairí McKiernan spoke about SpunOut.ie in one of the morning slots, and I think most of the BlogTalk crowd learned a thing or two about social media for non-profit organisations. The organisation is using social media to activate the young people in Ireland, to inform and engage them with a number of different issues or challenges they face.

What we can learn from their case study? Always involve your target audience. SpunOut.ie wants to engage young people, so they have young people on the board and involved in making key decisions for the organisation. And remember to learn from one market to another. Use social media to share ideas and learnings but remember to bring it back to your local audience.

Clixtr Presented By Fergus Hurley

He walked us through what it takes to go from Galway to Silicon Valley. His network, Clixtr, is one that I admit to not hearing about before the conference and will certainly use now in the future. His presentation had a lot of great resources so looking forward to getting the slides. He also gave us a sneak peak at Picbounce which appears to be a faster version of uploading your pictures to sites like Twitter.

Engagement Is Key From NYPL

Deanna Lee of The New York Public Library gave us a great presentation on how she has seen success in the social space. The title of her presentation “Communications 2.0″ is something that stuck with me, because she made the point that while the rest of us have moved on to Web 3.0 and beyond, for institutions and corportations, many of them are still stuck in 2.0.

I would agree that this is the challenge from a marketing perspective that we face all the time. Consumers have advanced their behaviour; but organisations are still fearful of diving head first into this space. The key point from the presentation was that we have to think about ways for our content to stand out. We cannot live by the “build it and they will come” motto, as social media is about being proactive. We have to create new ways to be noticed in the sea of content.

She referred us back to the “basics of storytelling” and to always be relevant. She gave us a lot of great examples of what makes content stand out like Ghostbusters in the NYPL or Tillman the skateboarding dog. As someone who has always been a fan of the library, she was able to draw on this favourably disposed emotion by making the NYPL’s campaign not a brand’s campaign but a people’s campaign.

Additional Points Worth Noting?

In addition to the highlights featured above, there were several presentations that sparked intrigue and got me thinking about all of the things I now have to follow up on! Some of them have been noted here below, but would love for others to add some of their highlights!

Consider The Six Degrees Of Collaboration And Apply To Your LinkedIn Strategy

Ted Vickey presented his thoughts on the power of LinkedIn and outlined several ways he has used the network to build his own network and others. Reach out to your network on LinkedIn and source contacts that can help you provide solutions to problems.

How Often Do We Ask Ourselves “Who Am I?” When Thinking About How We Are Presented In Our Social Profiles Online

Gabriela Avram, University of Limerick and Brian O’Donovan, IBM presented their academic observations about social identity construction. They outlined IBM’s internal social network, BluePages, as an example for their research. They pointed out that internal social networks are used with promotion in mind. Their slides definitely provided some food for thought.

A really interesting perspective was provided by Dr. Werner Breitfuss of Hypios, who presented his company’s “problem solving” platform that really shows the power of social media for our future. In my basic understanding of his product, Hypios helps people find experts with social media. If you have a problem that needs a solution, source the people that know the answers best. Take his Kraft example, where a small restaurant in Italy ended up providing the answer to something that Kraft was trying to solve on their own. The small restaurant was found using social media.

I haven’t commented on Ronan Skehill’s argument for why “Apps Are Bad” because I’m afraid I’d need to do a bit of research before I would be able to participate in that debate! His presentation did prove valuable in providing us with key stats about the future of native apps vs. web apps, and really drilled down the growth in this area. I had heard about Android’s growth, but didn’t realise that they had increased market share from 2% to 10% from Q1 2009 to Q1 2010.

Laurent Walter Goix of Telecom Italia was able to give us insight into our changing social behaviour from a mobile network’s perspective. His presentation was all about context. He outlined that we must always be “context aware,” considering the where, when, how, by what, and by which network? With this context awareness, there will a new role for telcos, whereby they may become the “context sensors” for the data we share and consume across the mobile social web. He also pointed out the importance of filtering content on your mobile due to the small display screens on mobile devices.

All in all, the conference was really valuable for a social media marketer/enthusiast due to its fresh perspective in speakers, as mentioned in my post about BlogTalk 2010 day one! From someone looking at social media with my brand and organisation hat on, it was useful to think about the technology behind what makes social networks work. The debates about the future of social media left us all buzzing. I look forward to staying in touch with those that myself and Aoife Murphy of Radical met along the way; as well as keeping up to speed on the blogs, videos and opinions shared from the speakers on the day. Thanks to John Breslin and other event organisers.

Emer is the Social Media Manager for Radical, a full service online marketing agency in Dublin. You can find her on Twitter at @emerlawn.

Ted Vickey And Getting The Most Out Of LinkedIn

Ted Vickey with John Breslin, organiser of BlogTalk 2010.

In the final session of BlogTalk 2010, Ted Vickey gave a talk in which he shared insights, tips and tricks for using LinkedIn.

Ted Vickey (NUI Galway) – Social media and LinkedIn for business from DERI, NUI Galway on Vimeo.

A key takeaway was when Ted suggested that using LinkedIn, or any other social platform for that matter, was like using a muscle. It has to be worked: you either use it or you lose it.

Of course, it has to be worked intelligently, which is where the value in the sharing of his expertise became apparent.

Ted believes LinkedIn to be a powerful business tool for connecting people from down the street to around the world. As part of his PhD studies at NUI Galway, he has begun a research project to better understand the perceived benefits of LinkedIn.

If you would like to help him further in this endeavour please take part in his survey which you can access by clicking on this link: http://ht.ly/2wqK3.

Six Month Review

Connemara, County Galway.

Tomorrow, it will be six months since I wrote my first article for Technology Voice. The Winter Olympics had just closed and I felt that NBC – by treating social media as a billboard with a multitude of bells and whistles – had missed the opportunity for real engagement which is what this medium is all about.

This ‘not getting it’ by individuals and corporations alike turned out to be a major theme in many of the fifty-five articles I have written since then. My favourite, since you asked, is a very early article called “Galway Is A Mini San Francisco“. It set the tone of what was to come in terms of accuracy and in the sense that we are all about; people doing new, creative things – particularly in Ireland but elsewhere too.

We, John Breslin owner and publisher of Technology Voice, and myself, now have a new tagline; “Navigating New Horizons”. Our eyes are firmly set on what is possible. We avoid futurology as the imminent and doable seem so much more interesting. We hope that by following our interests in seeking and figuring out new ideas, innovations and approaches, you will feel that you are being shown something of interest and relevance for yourselves. An ideal article should leave you feeling that you would like to give it a go yourself, and to hell with it, you just might. That’s what ambition looks like around here.

The summer is winding down, people have returned from their holidays, the children are back at school and there is a general feeling of being refreshed and ready for new challenges – and so it is with us.

The next six months look exceedingly interesting. There is a lot of work being done in the federated social web space, and by the end of September we should see the results of the Social Web Acid Test project. Owners of platforms with walled gardens are going to have to do some fundamental rethinking. Facebook is very big, but, as was pointed out on a number of occasions at BlogTalk 2010, even with its hundreds of millions of users, it is tiny compared to the rest of the Internet which in turn is growing at a faster rate than Facebook.

It may be too early to make the call for the “iPad effect” but if it isn’t you heard it here first. It is clear that apps could well be the very effective workaround for the ghastly internet bottleneck that is a modern web browser. We have already talked about this in an article called “The Collective Brain App“.

There are exciting times ahead and we would very much like to share what we are finding out by building and extending the community around Technology Voice. But we would like to it in an organic, friendly, non-intrusive way. We realise that what we do is not for everyone, and we have no desire to push anything into anybody’s face. There is enough noise out there and we have no desire to add to the decibel level.

By the same token we would like to share the things that excite and interest us with others who in turn would be excited and interested. So, here is what we would like to do. We would like to know what sort of things you like and what sort of things you would like us to cover or write more about.

Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to reach out to you in various ways to try
and establish a clearer picture of where your interests lie. If you are up for joining in the odd crowdsourcing experiment or two, then that would be just great.

Thanks to everybody for all the comments, retweets and status updates. They never fail to be a delight to see. We hope that the next six months will be as interesting and fun, if not more, as those we have just had and we hope you choose to come along for the ride and see where it goes.

Interview With Darragh Doyle Of boards.ie At BlogTalk 2010

Click on image to listen

We were granted an audio interview by the delightful Darragh Doyle of boards.ie at last week’s BlogTalk 2010.

You will hear him come up with a somewhat plausible explanation for his dreadful jokes. He also comments on the trials and pitfalls of being an internet celebrity who happens to have a blue nose.

In the final part, he describes his mission which is quite simply to use the Internet to tell people about things.

It is a little under eight minutes and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Highlights from BlogTalk 2010

Emer Lawn attended BlogTalk 2010 in Galway, Ireland last week, and she has very kindly agreed to share her original post with us here. This account is from day one. Day two will be posted shortly.

Arriving in Galway yesterday with little expectation for what Thursday and Friday would bring at BlogTalk 2010. I was delighted with day one… compelled me to write a blog at least, despite the conference having little or nothing to do with “blogging.” The day started for me with considerations for our identity online and whether we should have one ID for all properties across the Web. Facebook were bravely represented and I’d comfortably stand by them for a while. They are not going anywhere just yet! Credibility is the third thing that stuck out, which, of course, stems from being relevant and interesting.

Highlight of day one for me was the panel on social vs. conversational networks, led by Ade Oshineye of Google. To start the panel off, he walked us through his perspective on the social networking spectrum: social networks like Facebook and Picasa on one side, and conversational networks such as Twitter, Flickr on the other.

In his opinion, “social” is more private and “conversational” is more open. He stated that when a network is more conversational it inspires more creativity. His perspective was interesting, but I was glad to hear from the other panel speakers, Darragh Doyle of boards.ie, Blaine Cook from Webfinger, and Charles Dowd of Facebook, who were able to look at it from different angles.

I managed to capture a good chunk of the panel discussion on video, so thought I would share it here.

Interesting Points From The Discussion?

  • Always remember how a network was engineered. That might provide us with insight behind what the creators of that social network had in mind and which part of the social spectrum a network falls under.
  • Cow Clicker is cool.
  • Consider the identity of someone using Twitter for a business, brand. The people behind the account matter.

Blaine Cook’s example was to think of a social network as like the local coffee shop. You might not go in if that really annoying employee is working that day; but similarly, if that pleasant employee is working, you might feel more inclined. This point is interesting to me, considering my work is looking after Twitter and Facebook for brands. In the same way you get hired to work for a company because you seem like a good fit, any of the the social media profiles and accounts I manage are a good fit for me. Further to that, the future is certainly not having just one Twitter account for a company, but several accounts with individuals named, which is where we need to head to bring a more human touch to the brand. This is particularly important for customer service in social media.

When posed the question, “What impact will mobile have on the future of social media?” the panelists agreed that the Internet PLUS anything else is still the Internet. Perhaps that just means that mobile will contribute to the social world we already live in.

Aside from the panel, there were several other great presentations worth referencing.

John Conroy’s Use Of Twitter For Business Intelligence

The presentation from John Conroy sparked interest in something that I have pondered before about the power of social media and how data on platforms like Twitter can be used to predict external activity.

The examples of using Twitter for business intelligence that John used included measuring buzz around a holiday destination and mapping the number of actual tourists to that destination. The correlation of tweeting activity and destination visits proved his point. Additionally, he used new movie releases as another example: yhe amount of buzz before a movie on Twitter directly correlates with the success of an opening weekend. This means we might be able to predict the outcome of things to come, based on the amount of buzz built up around it online.

Interesting to see the academic approach to Twitter data as this reminded me of the success of two young students, Ben McRedmond (17) and Patrick O’Doherty (16), who created We Predict, demonstrated at the BT Young Scientists Competition. Their tool allowed them to use Twitter to predict the winners of Britain’s Got Talent and the X-Factor (good thing I only caught wind of it after Olly Murs lost, would have ruined it for me).

Dan Gillmor‘s Credibility Scale

Outside of that, I’d say another highlight of day one was Dan Gillmor‘s keynote presentation – “Using Media in a Networked Age” – which was a really great outlook on the democratisation of media and the principles of journalism. This is the side that fascinates me (AKA I’m not technical!).

Dan Gillmor said that committing an act of journalism doesn’t make you a journalist, referencing how bloggers are not journalists and vice versa. Probably the most important thing that I took from his talk was the credibility scale, or what could be called the bullsh*t meter. Some things are so far below zero on the credibility scale that they’d need to improve before even being called “not credible”. Credibility is so important, but we must think about how our credibility is specific to our interest, subject or expertise. Some people at BlogTalk were credible in developing apps, others in marketing brands in social media. So, when finding out where we belong on the credibility scale, it would have to be judged in context.

Bill Liao: Reminder To Be Wise, Interesting And Satisfying

Liao’s presentation was also something I’m glad I didn’t miss. Please, ALWAYS be wise, interesting, and satisfying.

I haven’t even brushed the surface with the above, as my pages of notes would prove; but was delighted to see fresh perspectives being shared in a space where change happens so quickly. Day two proved just as valuable, and I’ll be sure to follow up this post with more from the conference. Head will be buzzing for days I’d say!

Emer is the Social Media Manager for Radical, a full service online marketing agency in Dublin. You can find her on Twitter at @emerlawn.

Bill Liao: Unsustainability is a Euphemism for Doomed

Bill Liao is the author of the “The Stone Soup Way” and is involved with Xing and WeForest. The latter is an organization set up to empower local communities to reforest their environment by offering training in permaculture techniques.

Bill spoke on the first day at BlogTalk2010. He was interviewed afterwards and we would like to share some of the things he had to say.

“I am a great believer in a thing called permaculture which is an ethical design science. If you want to look at the height of civilization in my view, then it’s design.

“You can design a future that’s beautiful or you can design a future that sucks. Most people don’t bother to design the next five minutes let alone a future they really want to live into.

“It’s about designing a future you really want to live in and then creating a narrative about it that other people really hear and treating everyone with compassion. Hearing them, having them feel heard. Because most of the time we’re [left feeling] right about something because no one’s listening.”

On the internet and mobile phones

“We have the most powerful thing that we have ever had as a species. Our greatest tool is language. And now we have this thing that allows our language, our physical language, our emotional language, our direct language, written language and spoken language to be transmitted to every corner of the planet instantaneously.

“We did a survey with The Hunger Project years ago and access to [to mobile phones for] the poorest of the poor was about 1%. The same survey was conducted last year, 50%. Next year, 75% of the poorest of the poor will have access to a mobile phone at sometime.

“That means that language can span the globe quickly. What an opportunity.”

On poverty

“If you want to end poverty in the world, empower the world’s women you end poverty – it’s pure and simple. That’s not to say that with men and women one acts dominant to the other. That’s not empowerment that’s just another function of being right. Empowerment is just allowing everyone to be able to do what they said they were going to do.

“Women are particularly good, when the barriers are removed, at collaboration. Women are also more determined than men.”

Unsustainability is a euphemism for doomed

“There is so much negativity being used to promote things. You have this fear based reaction. So you look at the future and you say, “We’re screwed. And given that we’re screwed I might as well spend my last dollar and burn my last tree.” That’s the fear response. You get out of that with language. You get out of that with education.

The challenge for me everywhere, is a world that works for everyone. That’s the hard thing to be designing the future from. Because if you have a world that works for everyone there’s a whole load of stuff that we humans do that doesn’t fit in a world that works for everyone.”

On how to create a world that works for everyone

“Awareness, mindfulness, language – these are the three tools we have. Awareness is having the presence to be in the moment. Mindfulness is having the ability to actually look at what is going on, to be hungry for knowledge, hungry for wisdom.

“Your ability to affect anything in the world comes down to something very simple. Language and integrity. Integrity is simply doing what you said you’d do and honouring that. Your personal integrity is a function that gives you your empowerment. Because if you think about disempowerment – disempowerment is that you cannot do what you said what you would do. You don’t have the power to do something. Something is between you and what you said you would do.

“That’s the tool, get rid of all the things that get between you and all the things that you said you were going to do. Now half or more of the things that are between you and the things that you said you were going to do are in your head. They’re nowhere else. Only a small number of them are external factors.”

On the inner voice

“This trusted confidant that you use to discuss important matters like the future. The first step to mindfulness, realise that it’s just chatter. You have put far too much weight and emphasis on your inner voice. Actually, it’s not all that bright.

“If you stop listening to your commentary on what I’m saying and just listen to what I’m saying you get more data. And you turn that data into more information. You can process it afterwards and not on the fly and you get to feel good.

“So most people don’t use the most powerful part of language which is listening. Now if you get your inner voice calm, when you speak you listen and when you shut up, you listen. You make the other person feel heard. That’s the most powerful thing in the Universe.”

Be sure to go like WeForest on Facebook.

Deanna Lee: Social Media and The New York Public Library

Deanna Lee is Vice-President of Communications of The New York Public Library, (NYPL.) Before that she was at the Asia Society and before that she was a Senior Producer at ABC News.

As part of her current role she has been active in extending the reach of the NYPL’s social media presence. In one instance, through her efforts and the efforts of her team the follower account for @NYPL has risen from about 4,000 in January 2010, to over 65,000 as I write at the end of August 2010, seven months later.

I asked her how she did approached the task of managing the NYPL’s online activities.

Making content that really stands out and then very proactively and consciously pushing out all this great content. Because, of course, we are all working in a world that’s very exciting but the sea of content is growing and growing. So how do you make what you do stand out?

First of all it starts with quality content. We all think this is New Media but guess what, not everything in New Media is new. Certain things have never changed. You have to tell a good story that teaches people about things that they otherwise aren’t hearing, that has great, compelling characters that makes a difference in people’s lives and says to them that you need to care about this story because it’s directly related to what is going on with you.

How easy is it to create content?

It’s shockingly easy and that’s the challenge. We work for a big organization, The New York Public Library and to a lot of people there who haven’t been creating their content doing it seems a really daunting thing. My job as a manager is to inspire people and to say, “You’ve got all the goods. You have the great content for stories. You know how to tell the stories and, guess what, making the stories is just not that hard.” And when people start, invariably they find that’s so.

Of course the easier it is for people to make that great content the easier it is for that sea of content to grow. But the challenge to what I call, ‘market it out there,’ is even greater. So the very thing that is exciting is making it harder at the same time.

So, there’s no place to rest in this New World?

There are changes every week. There’s exciting new technology every week. A lot of those new technologies are helping us. Just look at what we are all able to do now with Google Analytics. It used to be you used to go trial and error and see what punches through to people, what gets you more eyeballs. Now you can actually measure it. In traditional media we were never able to really do that. You would wait for news of television ratings through sweeps and those were very imperfect.

Google Analytics can be very precise and you can and should be trying different techniques and measuring them constantly.

Nobody seems to know where it is all going so where should people start?

You should make content that interests you. You don’t want to just throw anything out there. You want to feel good about what you are doing. Presumably, if you are a content maker you want to make content that makes a difference to other people’s lives. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of Social Media? It’s that you can reach other people. Not just reach them and make them look at you but reach them and make them care about something. In an ideal world even make them act. In the broadest sense that’s what the definition of what Social Media is. You better care about it yourself and care about what you are doing.

I never know if everybody know this term from that old Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams;” “Build it and they will come.” Well that’s an old movie and that’s and old thought. Because it’s not “build it and they will come.” You can make the content that interests you. You can make the content that’s full of good story-telling but more and more people are doing that every day. You can make it but then you have to figure out how to make them come.

Which is how?

You just don’t it out in one place, in one blog, on Youtube. You have to multi-purpose your content. The great thing about what we are all doing now – and certainly technology and devices are making this more possible – is that a blog post doesn’t have to be what an old blog post was which was primarily text. Or, if you were lucky, a slide-show. Now with tools like Tumblr a blog post can incorporate that video that you made. You could start it with a video and add a little bit of back story and you’ve got a blog post on Tumblr in addition to a Youtube video, or a Vimeo video or a video that you are putting out on your Facebook page. It should all be circular. You should me multi-purposing everything.

How does collaboration work in this mix?

We like to partner with people that add something that we don’t have. Partners that can add a huge ready-made viral marketing machine for example. We don’t have a lot of marketing dollars. We are a non-profit, we’re the ‘public’ library. We partnered with this group Improv Everywhere and every video they make automatically gets tons of views and massive press. Old Media, New Media, everyone writes about everything they do. They’re the ones who made the famous no-pants subway rides. Their motto is “We cause scenes.” We figured that they would love to get the chance to cause one of their scenes in the famous Rose Main Reading Room at the Library. We said to them, we are going to invite you in but in return let’s think of something you guys and your creative team can do that will promote an advocacy campaign we had at the time to fight dramatic City budget cuts. It was a great partnership. They got something great out of it and we got something great out of it.

With all this information moving around what about the issues of openness and transparency?

Many people would say that the jury is out. People can post more easily to more and more places and right now and transparency is considered a very good thing. I do feel that in these times when many people don’t feel that they have very much control over large parts of their world then feeling like you can see how decisions are being made in the institutions you care about or in politics, or in arts, culture and entertainment plus feeling like you get an inside look at something, that kind of transparency is considered a good thing and New Media and Social Media is making that possible.

What do you see coming over the horizon? What should we be paying attention to?

What young people should be looking at is that you may think you may know what you want to be doing in five years but new disciplines, new fields, new possibilities are opening up. More then at any time in history you are the ones defining what the next fields shall be. I would just hope that young people looking forward aren’t trying to fit into careers, fields or jobs that are set. Or if you do go to a set job you’re asking yourself every day, “How do I expand the bounds.”

Deanna Lee is speaking at BlogTalk 2010 on Friday, August 27th.

SpunOut.ie: A Highly Effective Use of Facebook for Increasing Awareness

In just four short months from April to August, 2010, SpunOut.ie have raised the number of people on their Facebook page community from around the 400 mark to nearly 12,000 participants, as of writing. This is a remarkable achievement for a small Galway based charity whose stated aim is to educate and inform young people in the 16 – 24 age on the issues that concern them and encourage engaged citizenship through social activism.

Ruairí Mckiernan, with the help of some friends, started SpunOut.ie from his bedroom in 2004 using a dial-up modem which would sometimes take half an hour just to send an email. SpunOut.ie, (the term ‘spunout’ comes from the notion that youth culture is fed up with spin; political spin, religious spin, spin from teachers, the media and advertisers.and they are ‘spun out’,) was always intended to be web-based. Taking advantage of platforms such as forums and informational pages to share information and have discussions about issues such as sexual health, mental health, drugs, alcohol and other matters of concern to young people.

Ruairí says, “The burning motivation for me was that at the height of the Celtic Tiger, seeing that the sole emphasis was on economic development, development, development. At the same time social development was going in the opposite direction. It seemed to me [to be an increase] in terms of suicide and mental health, particularly around younger people who were being developed as economic units rather than citizens. If you look around now and ask where is everyone and what are they doing and why is there no big big engagement, it’s because the investment was to bring people into the corporate world. Which is fair enough but it needs to be balanced with social development.”

He goes on to say, “The website provides a channel for people to discuss, debate and participate in a way that they don’t normally get. The internet provides the opportunity for people to discuss things that they feel a little bit more safer with. There is a degree of anonymity if there are taboo issues. And some of the major taboo issues in Ireland are around the issues of mental health and sexual health.”

These are sensitive issues and on the main site there are is a trained team of moderators in child protection and suicide preventions skills. Ruairí points out, “ Obviously there are risks in providing an open space so we mitigate against that in a way that Facebook mightn’t by resourcing with [trained] staff.”

What social networking platforms like Facebook can do is offer organisations like SpunOut.ie the means to reach a much larger audience that they might not normally have access to and tap into a new set of resources. There are roughly 630,000 people in Ireland alone that fit into SpunOut.ie’s target demographic.

Jason Coomey, the charity’s web developer, was tasked with helping build on the organisations significant development work to increase SpunOut.ie’s profile on Facebook. It became clear very quickly that this was almost a full-time job. Ruairí says, “It’s not every organization or company that would put somebody just on to Facebook. But it’s something we have made an organizational decision around for now.”

One of Jason’s first tasks was to work with the SpunOut.ie team in migrating user activity away from the profile page which allows friends to access other friends information directly to the more public although ironically more private space of a Facebook page. They found that advertising on Facebook took a different turn from using Google Adwords. The latter is focused on keywords while Facebook is focused on demographics.

To encourage people to like their page they decided to run competitions. The prizes were for such things as tickets for the Oxegen and Electric Picnic concerts. Another prize on offer was an ipad.

One of the things they quickly learned was to set up the promotion in its own tab and in the settings make that the landing page. Jason says, “When people land on the site they should be sent to the first page that you want them to see. This can be done by setting up a tabbed page and then change the setting on the page so when someone arrives they get sent to the relevant page immediately. People have a very short attention span. It’s 15 seconds, perhaps as low as five or three seconds or less and that’s it.”

But they didn’t want these competitions to be mindless affairs. Like every charity they need to come up with strategies and plans to justify why they should receive funding. Some of this information can only be gleaned from doing surveys which, traditionally at best, can only be referred to as being very dry affairs.

Jason tells what happened, “We ran an ipad competition to get people to fill a survey as part of our strategic review. Over fifteen hundred people participated in the survey. The quality of the information was amazing. It’s not as though we came away with 11k fans we didn’t know what to with. We had fifteen hundred people [participate] and we acquired an extra eleven thousand fans as well.”

The Facebook average is 0.04% (figures from 2007 so may well be dated,) return on click throughs. Naturally, Ruairí and Jason would wish to keep certain matters confidential but they do claim that the returns from their activities were significantly better than the Facebook average for the ipad competition.

There is a very small window of opportunity for an ad campaign. As little as a day or two before results fall away rapidly. But click through rates are not enough and a lot of statistical analysis takes place in determining if a rise or fall in click through rates results in more or less fans.
It is not a straightforward relationship and all the data has to be looked at very carefully.

But awareness is not enough. Ruairí, “I am passionate about the need for social change in Ireland and I see the internet as one way of achieving that. If you don’t have a passion about it, it won’t work, it won’t get off the ground.” SpunOut.ie now has an online audience of 500,000 people. “We are trying to engage them is social issues and activate them as active citizens. We want them to get interested in the big issues of the day and to do something about them.

“We’re in a really good position but we’re not in a really good financial position to secure that for the future. So not to lose the huge goodwill that we have built up we would like others to come in and row with us. We’re keen on suitable partners. We’re actively looking for support in developing, marketing and funding to realize our full potential.”

If you think you can help in any way you can find the SpunOut.ie team at their Facebook page or on their home site.

Ruairí Mckiernan is one of the speakers at BlogTalk 2010 being held this week in Galway, Ireland.

Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package

Having shipped over a 120,000 boards since their inception in Italy in 2005, Arduino microprocessors are becoming increasingly popular beyond the usual circle of tech heads and dedicated do-it-yourselfers. To help me find out why this may be I talked to Darren Tighe, who is currently working on his own Arduino projects.

The first significant aspect of the Arduino is its accessibility. Darren explains, “ Well it’s a microprocessor and traditionally they come in a little package with a couple of pins on them. To program them, play around with them and learn how to use them you would have to plug it into a programmer… and then unplug it and put it on to whatever project you were working with.
Whereas the arduino uses an Atmel chip which is a fairly common micro-controller but it’s set up for proto-typing. So it gives you a USB port so you can just program directly from the PC and it has lots of in and out ports for the electronics to be attached.”

The programming is done by using Arduino Sketch an off shoot of Processing, a language developed by the MIT Media Lab specifically to make programming easier and more accessible for people who would not normally want to, or think they could not, take on the task of learning a full blown programming language.

As Darren says, “They are used by a lot of artists who want to use LEDs in their art. Just to control them, to drive all the LEDs and send them into different patterns.”

While making technology relevant and usable to wider and wider sections of the population is undoubtedly a good thing Darren argues that this not the main reason for the Arduino’s success.

“I think the revolutionary part has nothing to do with what it actually is but with what people are doing with it. People are going out and saying “what can I hook this up to?” They’re playing, they reverse engineer, they hack away. Then they’re going back to the community and saying is there anything else I can do? I think the revolutionary thing is the community that has built up around it.”

The community seems to be the key. Arduinos come with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic licence alongside the Copyleft GNU General Public license. These agreements encourage sharing of knowledge gained and lessons learned. The Arduino’s existence and the way it is shared is creating the community that is creating things.

“There’s nothing brand new and innovative about it but the way people use it, that’s brand new and innovative. There is a huge amount of information on the web, a big community backing it up, all posting up what they are doing with their Arduino. How they’re doing it so you can learn from what they are doing.”

There is no ‘killer app’ in the Arduino world. Darren goes on to say, “It has an enormous amount of flexibility and an enormous amount of utility. You can turn it to almost any project you have in mind. If you need any level of any automation or you need to give your project a bit of a brain so that it knows what it’s doing rather than you having to tell it everything then the Arduino is ideal.”

Through hardware like Arduino and programming languages like Processing and Arduino Sketch it is now possible for more and more people from a range of different backgrounds and disciplines to be given access to the tools to turn an idea in their head into physical reality. We can reasonably expect to many new and varied applications for the Arduino micro-controller come over the horizon.

Jogo: Interactive Play in an Interactive World

Click on image for video of Jogo in action

Play is an essential part of a person’s development from a child into an adult. Robert Hughes says that our biological drives are “genetic rivers, whose primeval forces come from deep within us and that play, as a drive exists to help children make sense of their immediate worlds.” One can’t help but intuitively accept this observation even without all the evidence that supports it but a question does need to be answered and that is what constitutes healthy play that aids positive development and growth in the individual? (It’s not only children that need to play.)

We can’t send children to play on the streets anymore to find and make their own entertainment. The times and social mores have changed too much for us to go back to that. Yet those concerned with how children are growing up know that constant interaction with a computer screen is OK as far as it goes but is no replacement for the wild rides of the imagination that can be construed from old cardboard, discarded bric a brac and a bit of space to move around and make some noise.

Emma Creighton has been working on a project called Jogo, (the Portuguese word for play), which marries technological innovation with real world social interaction.

“I wanted to create something to bring back this free spontaneous play. Moving away from computer play. I wanted to make something that would bring old and young together, playing together and creating their own play. I wanted to explore how embedded technology could encourage these playful interactions.”

Jogo conists of a circular table with four rings of sixteen holes laid out concentrically. Each hole represents 1/16th of a musical measure and pitch varies on distance from the centre. The sound is defined by the placement of multi-coloured table tennis balls being placed over the various holes in combinations limited only by the player’s imagination. At the base is a camera which was pulled from a play station which looks up at the holes and can recognise the colours of the different balls. Each colour generates a different note. There is also some additional lighting present to aid the camera in picking out the colours.

The form of the table was defined by Emma’s idea that, “A tabletop is a natural social space and I use the circular shape because it can be approached from all directions. There’s no head of the table, it’s circular and everyone is on a level playing field.”

While the project is still ongoing, initial research took three months of focus groups and watching children and, just as importantly, adults in the play environment. Emma points out, “There are no social boundaries with children but adults would be more wary with interacting with strangers. So I wanted to create the same sort of play first talk later that children would to bring about this new social interaction.”

It took another month to build the Jogo displayed in this article. Emma learned computer vision code to hack the PlayStation camera and the project itself is programmed in Processing a programme specifically designed to make coding a more accessible process for the ‘visual design communities.’

As well as being naturally interested programming she also felt it was important for the project to understand the process and have more control. On her experience with arduino which she will be using for a hardware version of the project she says, “the program is quite usable even if you are not technical minded yourself. It’s a good introduction for creative people to get into making things talk.”

In the case of Jogo this is technology facilitating the experience of play. A table tennis ball is a tangible object that is familiar and easy to use and by choosing a particular colour of ball and a place to put it sound can be produced. There is no game of Jogo as such. It is open-ended in nature. One can invent as many rules or form of play as one likes. Or not. Just let the balls fall where they may and enjoy the results.

Emma says, “ It’s quite meditative. It could be used in therapy situations as it is quite soothing. It was interesting that people were saying that they enjoyed seeing other people playing with it or hearing other people play with it.”

As more ways, such as Processing and Arduino Sketch, become available and make seemingly difficult programming tasks more accessible to non-programmers or people who would not normally consider themselves as remotely techy all sorts of possibilities can come into existence.

Ideas can cross-fertilize in these newly created pastures of possibility. Talents from different disciplines can come together in ways previously unimagined and maybe essential activities like play and socialisation will become reinvigorated by these new developments.