SMXQ: Michael Fitzgerald

Michael Fitzgerald was one of the organizers of the very successful BizCamp Galway which took place earlier this week. He has a background in industrial engineering and now runs OnePageCRM a cloud-based system for small business.

1. Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

Originally from the Comeragh Mountains in Waterford (home to the largest glacier lake in Ireland), I qualified in Microprocessor Electronics and worked as a Sport Science Technologist before heading back to University in NUI Galway.

My career then turned towards product design and marketing for multinational companies, before I found my feet firmly on the internet. Quite varied you may say, but I’ve loved the journey.

2. What was your route into social media?

I had already been using LinkedIn and Facebook, but the first social media tool that I ‘really’ took to, was Twitter. They say there are two types of people when it comes to Twitter, those who get it, and those who don’t – well I started off not getting it until I read an article “ignore Twitter at your own peril” – so I gave it another go and it took off from there.

3. Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

We’ve been building web applications and eCommerece systems for clients, but our future is geared towards “building great web apps for small business.”

We’ve created a novel and very effective Sales Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool called

It takes the essential parts of a CRM application, compresses them to a single-page application that’s strongly influenced by Getting Things Done (GTD,) a personal time management system, to give you one of the most ‘effective’ sales tools on the internet.

OnePageCRM is web-based and we have found that our centralized presence in the cloud as opposed to supplying every client with their own specific download saves a tremendous amount of time and increases efficiency. All software needs to be updated and ours is no exception. With one update at our central server everyone using our software is immediately using the most current version.

4. What social media services do you use regularly and why?

I use Facebook/Facebook pages, LinkedIn and Digg but mostly Twitter, as it has been good to me. When you move into a new business area, you need to get to the “town square” in that sector. In the town square you’ll find your competitors, suppliers, customers, peers, key opinion leaders etc. and even employees, Twitter has helped me get to that point quickly by interacting with the relevant people.

Facebook is good to see what the cousins get up to in the US, but I use Facebook pages for business purposes. I’ve always been a good networker, so LinkedIn was a natural extension to that.

5. If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?
It would have to be Twitter. It’s been great for finding the “early adopters” for our Software as a Service (SaaS) web applications. We use a very gentle approach to communicating with people on Twitter for the first time. I never use any service to auto-follow users, only specific and personal interaction. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing out there, and Twitter gives everyone a voice.

6. Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

I think ‘context’ is going to be the most relevant in the future development. We all have a personal side, a work/business side and a special interest / hobby side to our lives. Getting the segregation right is difficult at the moment.

7. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

As stated above, in business, I can learn a huge amount about my area, meet relevant peers, and get opinions on what we’re working on very easily. You hear some people commenting that social media is “anti-social” – for me it has been the opposite. I now physically meet and chat with more people because of Twitter.

In addition, I have better quality conversations with those people because I know more of what was happening in their lives or business prior to physically meeting them.

8. What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?>

I think location-based services are good, but I think they could be done better. For instance, the service for me to ask “where are my friends now?” is good – but if it wasn’t always pushed to the stream you could give off your location more often and not cause clutter.

9. What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

Treat your social media interaction like you do in real life. If you wouldn’t shout something out in front of everyone one passing on a street, then don’t say it publically in social media.

10. How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

The real-time search will be the killer outcome of all this social media content. My favourite example of this is Baker Tweet. Imagine in the future walking through a city you are visiting and turning to your phone to ask “which cafe has the freshest raspberry scones right now?”
I’d love that… ‘cos I love scones ☺

Starting Out With Facebook Targeted Advertising

I recently ran my first Facebook advertising campaign in order to promote an engineering degree course here at NUI Galway. Although it may have been run too late to change most students’ minds about what course they wanted to do, I thought it might be interesting to share some insights into the Facebook advertising process, and to give an idea of the power of the targeted advertising system they provide.

When you click on the “Create an Ad” button on Facebook, you are presented with some ad design options – namely, the URL where you want people to click through to, the title (limited to 25 characters, which requires some imaginative juggling of words and txtspk), an image, and a description for the ad (135 characters). This is standard stuff, but where it gets really interesting is when you start playing with the targeting options.

By default, you normally need to choose a target country. Choosing Ireland will inform you there is an estimated reach of 1.5 million people who are 18 or over on Facebook. Choosing the USA changes that figure to 120 million. Considering the population estimates for Ireland and the USA are around 4.5 million and 300 million respectively, that’s at least a third of each country who use the site. You can choose countrywide or city-specific targeting.

You can then fine tune in terms of demographics: age and sex. But clicking on the less obvious “Advanced Targeting Options” link shows some fascinating options: target people on their birthdays; target people interested in men or women; target people in a particular type of relationship (single, engaged, married, other); and languages. You can also target people at different education levels and in specified workplaces.

Finally you choose your daily budget, and also whether you want to go for eyeballs on ads (cost per mille – CPM) or clickthroughs (cost per click – CPC), along with a bid amount for how much you are willing to pay for impressions or clicks.

This may sound like a bit of a black art, and since it was my first campaign, I decided to adopt a gambling strategy by placing my money on different horses. I knew that parents were highly influential in their child’s choice of college course, but I also knew that I primarily wanted to show the ads to school-goers. Then I wanted to make sure that I covered other groups like teachers, relatives, etc.

So I went for a three-pronged approach:

Secondary school students
…exactly between the ages of 16 and 19 inclusive
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns and cities in the west of Ireland
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 40 cents

…exactly between the ages of 40 and 55 inclusive – (I was estimating an age range of the teenager’s age plus 24 to 36)
…who are married – (I know this often may not be true, but it helped cut out many wasted ads to non-parents)
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 60 cents

Everyone else
…who live in Ireland
…selected cost per 1000 impressions (CPM) was 20 cents

And here are the results. For about €520, my ad was shown about 7 million times, and was clicked on about 1,750 times. That’s an overall average cost of about 30 cents per click.

It’s difficult to estimate if a click is worth more than a printed flyer sent in the post, but if you know roughly what type of clicker you had, then it’s pretty valuable information. Of those 1,750 clickthroughs, 1,100 were from the “secondary school students” group. 250 were from the “parents” group. I had budgeted about twice as much money for students, but for a lower bid rate they actually got double the clickthrough rate of the parents. The “everyone else” category was shown as much as the other two campaigns put together, perhaps due to the wider geographic spread, but received less clicks than the students, perhaps due to the ad placement (CPC being prioritised over CPM).

Clickthroughs for the three campaigns. The dip is due to my credit card maxing out while travelling!

What was interesting was that the most successful campaign was indeed the targeted-to-students one. But I was surprised that the broad spectrum campaign outdid (by 150 clicks) that of the one targeted to parents in the region, for the same amount of money spent (€130 each).

Facebook offers very fine-grained reports on campaigns. There are also stats regarding “social clicks”, i.e. the number of ad impressions where the viewer saw that a friend had liked the ad. Interesting stuff, and it seems there is still lots for me to learn…

Virtual 3D Galway

Click on any of the images to view amazing flyby of Galway City, Ireland.

Three years, two thousand person hours and fifteen thousand high resolution photographs later, Galway City has been rendered into a photo-realistic, wholly-accurate, three-dimensional model. Virtual 3D Galway is an immersive model in which you fly through the City, approach it from any angle and examine it from any perspective.

Gavin Duffy, Technical Director of Realsim, a Galway-based realtime 3D simulation company, began this epic project as a proof of concept. He says, “It is as far as I am aware the most detailed model of any city in Ireland. Because we have spent a lot of time and effort photographing from the ground with high resolution photography, very few of our buildings have people or lamp posts in them. So, we don’t suffer that Google Street View clutter. It’s clean, it’s high resolution, it’s geo-spatially accurate, we think it is as good as anything you’ll find anywhere in the world in terms of a 3D model.”

Realsim’s primary focus is in planning and development. Gavin explains, “Our bread and butter business has been supplying large organisations with realtime 3D models of their own property. Our first major customer was here in NUI Galway. The Buildings Office have a 3D model of the entire campus. They fly around themselves when they are talking to engineers or architectural consultants.

“When they are discussing the ever-changing parking plans, they can fly down to an area and say this is what we need to do here. The feedback has been that it is much more effective than looking at one of those white CAD plans. People know immediately what they are talking about.”

Stepping away from using traditional 3D architectural modelers who don’t normally take into account polygon and data volume, Gavin hired in as Chief 3D Graphic Designer, Eoghan Quigley, an experienced gaming programmer. The volume of vector information and the resolution of imagery that are in a given scene is very important. Even as powerful as modern laptop computers are, it is important to optimise data volumes, and there is a skill in getting the right balance between detail and data volume.

As Gavin points out, this has led to other interesting possible uses for the technology behind Virtual 3D Galway, “An interesting potential avenue [for us] is that because the model is game ready, it can then be applied to real-world games. If someone wanted to develop a game for Galway, it could be very beneficial as a promotional tool for Galway itself. We’re not a gaming company, but we can supply a gaming company with a ready-to-go real city environment on which they can develop a game.”

At the beginning of the project, Galway was mapped by a series of aerial photographs – the raw material of the 3D environment. They provide the base map and it’s also the most efficient way to extract three dimensional shapes for the actual buildings.

But what makes Virtual 3D Galway so special is the time and effort spent walking down every street and alley over an area of three square kilometres containing over six thousand buildings, and even doing that was not as straightforward as it may seem.

Gavin explains, “It’s not just a matter of going out and photographing willy-nilly. The factors you’ve got to take into consideration are [things like] sunlight. Sometimes when sunlight is illuminating a building it can add a nice 3D effect, but if it’s completely in the shadow it is better to come back again on a cloudy day. You’re not going to get good photography in Shop Street (Galway’s main pedestrian thoroughfare) on a Friday evening. Nor are you going to get good photography first thing in the morning when all the delivery trucks are there. Particularly for city centre areas you have got to time exactly when you photograph. There were a lot of Sunday mornings [spent taking pictures] but at the same time you don’t want to photograph shops with the shutters down.

“The very process of acquiring the photographs and getting the optimal times in terms of lighting, lack of people, cars, vehicles, was a challenge in itself, but we were willing to put the the time and effort in to get the very best photography for the model.”

Data currency (the recency and relevancy of data) was, is and will always be a major challenge. Urban environments are in a constant state of flux. Old shops close, new shops open. Warehouses are torn down and cinemas built and so on. Sometimes an old map can be worse than no map.

“Building facades change quite regularly in Galway and we’ve ended up photographing the same facade several times just to keep the model up to date… That will be an ongoing challenge: one of the reasons why I think in the long term other cities in the world will probably have to localise the development and maintenance of their [own virtual] cities. [In order] to maintain an up-to-date city model, a local company will need to manage it.

“For example, Google have covered the UK and Ireland but when are they going to come back? The aerial photography for Galway is well out of date. You don’t see Webworks, and you don’t see the TK Maxx building because they were all construction sites then.”

So as environments and technologies change, the need for new skill-sets and outlooks emerge. New opportunities emerge. But Virtual 3D Galway is more than a backdrop to a game or a functional engineering tool. It is a view of ourselves and where we live reflected back at us in an unerringly accurate manner that we have never witnessed before. The true value of Virtual 3D Galway is in what it can tell us about how we live now and perhaps inform us in some way of how we can live better in the future.

Gavin says, “In the absence of knowledge and proper information, fear and distrust build. [Virtual 3D Galway] allows people to see objectively the true shape of things to come.

“Part of the problem that society has had in terms of imagining a way forward is that people have not been able to communicate their vision. If you can create that vision in a virtual environment, it then becomes a very, very powerful means to promote it and even let people in a virtual way to experience it. I think virtual worlds will have a powerful way in helping people to create a really good and powerful vision for the way we should go forward using virtual world technology.”

Ignite the West and BizCamp Galway

Two important large-scale events took place in Galway City last weekend. Ignite the West rolled into town and set up shop “for a fun night of geekery and networking.” The next day BizCamp Galway took place at the Cairnes Building at NUI Galway. An event so over-subscribed that extra passes were granted only to those who were willing to act as volunteers for the day.

Although very different in nature the two events were underscored by a shared sense of optimism and a willingness to move forward regardless of how circumstances present themselves.

On the Friday night, Ignite the West led by Steve Daley and Dermot McCabe (aka Mr. Whippy) and their team brought, bean bags, music and projectors and the hallowed halls of the 091 Labs Hackerspace. The 091 Labs community in turn provided the sound system, videography and general crewing for the night. As well as hosting the event much effort on their part was spent on promoting the event in Galway City itself.

The original idea for Ignite the West came out of Seattle in 2006 as a personal project of Brady Forest and Bre Prettis the idea has travelled across the globe and had finally arrived in Galway.

The concept is simple. Each speaker has five minutes and twenty slides that change at a preset regular interval. The topic is at the speakers discretion as is the subject of each slide. After that it is tighten your seat belts and prepare for what might be a bumpy ride. There is no time for hesitation and in front of an audience of 130 people it is safe to say that a good few of the speakers were well out of their comfort zones.

We don’t have space to list all the speakers so in a spirit of fairness we have used to pick out three.

Eric Van Lente researcher in the health promotion research centre at NUIG and his talk on “The Defensive Self”. He spoke about the ego and the Body and Self. It was thought provoking as he explained how we have two defence systems and how if you threaten the ego it feels like the body is being attacked and how you can become over defensive. The ego effecting the immune system with imaginary future ego threats – when the body doesn’t know any better. He offered up possible solutions to the audience of meditation and mindfulness to help with ‘ego death”.

Mike Hogan another NUIG researcher gave a 5 minute presentation on “Spirituality and Systems” . He spoke of how open networks can create more ideas and how different mental modes are developed depending on their reality.

Ellen Dudley of Crowdscanner, on “Digesting Sugar”. Ellen’s hilarious five minute presentation was on hacking the digestion system. There was mention of cling film and the small intestine! She criticised the newsagents and how they sell POISON in the form of sugar and that it should be against the law to eat sugar. If there was a prize for best speaker of the evening Ellen should have got it!

After such a high powered start to the weekend one had to wonder how BizCamp Galway would fare in comparison. But they turned out be complementary affairs. Michael Fitzgerald who along with Dave Kelly, Elaine Divilly, Paul Killoran and Mark Campbell helped put the occasion together described the thinking behind the event.

“It’s a bit like a doocracy where you have grass roots entrepreneurs, zero sales pitch, basically sharing experiences that they have rather than saying this is the way it should be done. [It’s more,] this is the way I did it and this what I found was good and bad. It’s a real honest approach to things.”

Not only were there three hundred applications for the two hundred and fifty free attendee places there were also more than sixty people who put themselves forward for the thirty available speaking slots. It may not have been as adrenalin fueled as Ignite the West but one could argue it was every bit as intense.

Again, to maintain our impartiality we shall use the to select another sample of speakers to show the range and quality of what was available at the event.

A very interesting talk was given by Lyn Julien, a Nutritional therapist on “How to Combat Stress with Nutrition”. Her talk advised on eating the right foodstuffs to combat stress and increase energy and on supporting the adrenal glands. She explained that one of our main goals with eating food when having a very hectic work life is that we should eat Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods to balance blood sugar levels. She advised on the different types of meals we should consider eating during a busy and hectic work schedule.

Pat Phelan of MAXROAM spoke about his litany of failures. His first job after completeling his InterCert in 1981 was as a butcher. He failed as a butcher. He also told us that he failed as a drinker. Finally after a period away in Pakistan as a chef, he saw an opportunity and started up a phone company when himself and his colleagues couldn’t ring home easily and cheaply. Pat stated that he was happy to grow his company as a business in Ireland despite the current economic downturn in this country and spoke about his own wife who is starting up her own business and how she secured her own funds by herself. He spoke about all the opportunity ahead and advised us to get out on there and to knock on doors.

Mark Campbell has created a wonderful and innovative app for anatomy called Pocket Anatomy. Mark’s app is a supplement to textbooks on anatomy. Mark spoke about the importance of focus groups and their feedback in the development of iPhone apps.

The main takeaways from Mark’s talk were on his emotional attachment to the app he developed and how it wasn’t a good idea for the developer to sit in a focus group as a moderator. It was better to get an independent moderator to do the job and get the richness from the content obtained. For the focus groups he had involved in his app development he recommended going for a group of six people with an even gender balance.

Bizcamp Galway was a well organised and thought provoking day out. It is good to see an effort being made by local entrepreneurs. For things to work at a national level in Ireland they also need to work at a local level and Bizcamp Galway demonstrated what you can do with community business groups in the locality by getting them involved and aware of one another.

As Michael Fitzgerald says, “ I feel there is something special happening around Galway especially around the internet and small business. As a country we are waking up to industry again. Waking up to something that will give us value.”
The writer of this article, Ina O’Murchu, was a speaker at both events. She spoke about FashionCamp Ireland at Ignite the West and gave a talk entitled “Beyond Facebook” at BizCamp Galway.

Live Matrix: The Guide To What’s When On The Web

In the same way that TV Guide allows you to find the programmes you want to see on television without having to take pot luck or by constantly having to channel surf, Live Matrix offers to show you “what’s when on the Web.”

Nova Spivack, who has featured on Technology Voice before, had the idea when he kept finding out about events that he would have wanted to see or participate in only after they had already taken place. He thought that many other internet users may have experienced this as well.

In an announcement on his personal site he says, “Google, Yahoo and Bing all focus on what I call the “space dimension” of the Web — they help you find what’s where — where is the best page about topic x? — But they don’t help you find out what’s when — what’s happening now, what’s coming next. They only help you find out what’s already finished and done with. How do you find out what’s happening now? How do you know what’s upcoming?”

Live Matrix helps to answer those questions by acting as a guide for all scheduled events on the Web including:

  • Live online video webcasts
  • Audio webcasts
  • Time-limited sales, offers, and auctions
  • Events in virtual worlds
  • Scheduled gaming events
  • Tournaments and contests

Live Matrix has been in private invite beta for the last three months, and although this a public launch it is still in beta and feedback is welcomed. However, in that brief time period in areas like shopping, Live Matrix has already become the most comprehensive single source for what’s on
 sale when, across the leading private sale and auction sites.

Sanjay Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Live Matrix says, “We believe that the Scheduled Web is the natural progression from the real-time Web and that Live Matrix is uniquely valuable to consumers, event providers, online publishers and
advertisers alike.”

You can familiarise yourself with Live Matrix and how it works by watching this screencast.

Blaine Cook Introduces Us To Webfinger

Blaine Cook was in charge of building Twitter for the first couple of years of its existence before moving on to pastures new. At the moment, he is working with Osmosoft which is the open source innovation arm of BT. Last month, he came to Galway, Ireland to speak at BlogTalk 2010 about another one of his current projects, Webfinger.

The current situation that we have at the moment with the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, and so on can be likened to a type of sharecropping. In that scenario, you get to work on the farm, but you don’t get to own the farm. The owners of the social networking platforms, like the landowners of old, get to call the shots, and at any point you can lose your farm. Or, in our modern world version, you lose access to your accrued data and any kind of community you may have created. As Blaine says, “It’s a very tenuous situation to be in.”

How do we manage having control over our network and be able to create rich networks?

“Social networks are premised on this idea of the network effect. If you have a single fax machine in the world, it is not a very useful device. But if everybody now has a fax machine, it is now a very powerful communications device. So, if you’ve got one user on your social network, it’s not a useful social network. But if you’ve got all 150 million users from Twitter and 500 million users from Facebook, you can use your social network for, potentially, a much more powerful and engaging story. You can build much richer communities.”

So how do we get away from relying on Facebook and Twitter, and actually move towards a more internet-like approach where people can construct these networks themselves?

“The analogy from the past is that in the semi pre-internet days when the Internet existed but most people didn’t have access to it, there were a couple of providers: CompuServe, AOL, [Minitel in France, and a few elsewhere.] They all had e-mail facilities, but you couldn’t e-mail between them. If you wanted to send a message to someone and you’re on CompuServe, they had to be on CompuServe. Eventually we ended up in a situation where now we just use e-mail. These other networks don’t matter… because we moved to a technology, SMTP, the infrastructure that powers e-mails nowadays.”

How do we replicate this transformation with the current stage of the Web?

“How do we make it so that if I set up a photo sharing site I can share photos with someone that is on Flickr? Or say if I use software for my conference planning, I can share my conference planning on Lanyrd with someone not on Lanyrd without having to sign up with Lanyrd. There’s plenty of these sites and I don’t want to sign up for every single one of them, and I don’t want to duplicate my social network and do all of this work multiple times. These are the questions that have brought me to working on Webfinger.

“There is another challenge. Even if we accept that it’s okay to have one social network in charge of the whole world, the reality is that our real world existence is much more complicated than that. The reality is that we have very diverse interactions with people. You’ve got co-workers and you have family and you’ve got friends. If you’re a school teacher, you have co-workers and you have students. So we have all these complicated relationships with different people, and we actually present [ourselves] in a different way to them. We are performers in our own social existence, and we put on different masks and different identities to carry out these different interactions.

“Facebook is like a wedding from hell. Because it’s everybody you know, everybody you’ve ever met is just kind of hanging out. And if you were ever in a physical social space that would be like Facebook, it would be the most horrific experience you’ve ever had. Your mum who’s sitting next to your boss who’s sitting next to your first girlfriend who’s sitting next to your current wife, and then you have a couple of students from school or something. It’s a really, really broken situation.

“Really what we want are diverse networks that allow us to communicate in more rich ways and more specific ways.”

So where does Webfinger come in?

“The first problem that comes up is how do we deal with naming people? How do we deal with names and how do we address people? We have addresses for people in terms of postal addresses, through phone numbers, e-mail addresses. Your postal address is one of the first things you learn as a child. I am sure today kids would learn their phone numbers and e-mail addresses very early on. But we don’t have that for the social web.

“So, when we are thinking about these identity questions, the most important thing in all of them is not the technology that drives them, the data formats or any of the technical bits – that’s very, very secondary… There’s literally dozens of different ways to approach the technological side of things. But I think we lose sight, too often, of the social side of things… The thing that brought me specifically to Webfinger and the way that it works is thinking about how people use the Internet.

HTTP addresses and web URLs don’t really make sense to people. You have people googling for Yahoo and yahooing for Google. They don’t get the URLs but my grandmother is perfectly happy to e-mail me. She does that all the time, and she understands how to write down an e-mail address and contact me that way. What I wanted, essentially, was the usability of an e-mail address where you have a name and a place.

“So, how do we take this e-mail address which is name at place, and turn that into web URLs? Because we know how to work with web URLs. We know how to build technologies around them that allow us to do identity, to do data exchange, RSS and Atom feed syndication stuff – we know how to do that.

“Webfinger is really just a way to translate e-mail addresses to web URLs and that’s it… it takes literally minutes to set up for the simplest cases, so it is something that is very, very accessible. We’ve designed it to have minimal impact on the technology we need to use in your site to make it work, so it’s very adoptable.”

Webfinger is now supported by Google, Yahoo and AOL, and there is a chance that Microsoft may join the fray. At the beginning of the year, there were almost 1.5 billion e-mail users, which is an enormous base to bootstrap from. We will be talking to Blaine in the next couple of months to see how things are progressing.

You can watch this video of Blaine explaining more about Webfinger at BlogTalk 2010.

Dave Marash Comes to NUI Galway

Dave Marash is coming to Galway, and he is going to speak in the Guest Speaker series of talks for the MA in Journalism programme at NUI Galway on 21 September at 12 PM. The location is at the Siobhan McKenna Theatre (link to map) in the Arts Millennium Building of the University. Anyone can come and if they are in the area or if is convenient for them to make a trip to Galway, then they should. They will be in for a treat.

Dave has been one of the leading journalists in American television over a career that has spanned nearly four decades. Here is a clip from one of his more recent shows featuring how his CBS counterpart Barry Petersen is coping with the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in his wife Jan.

Click on image for video.

For over sixteen years, Dave worked at ABC News on Nightline, a highly-influential nightly current affairs programme. In his time there, he covered major stories that took him to such places as the Former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Honduras and Northern Ireland. By way of a disclaimer I know this to be true as I accompanied him on some these trips working in my old job as a cameraperson.

Dave Marash attracted considerable attention when he joined Al Jazeera English (AJE) to become the network’s Washington DC anchor. Due to various ill perceptions of the channel’s output, AJE has no major cable or satellite distribution deal in the United States but it is available on the Web. It was a significant move for such a high profile journalist as Dave Marash. It demonstrates his willingness to engage with the story-telling process as he sees fit and be guided by his own moral compass.

His talk is entitled “The Religion of Journalism: Our God is Reality – What’s There?” Even though he has shared a thought or two with me on the subject, I am as intrigued as anybody else as to how the content is going to play out. I do know that it is going to be erudite, knowledgable, authoritative, and, knowing Dave, probably very entertaining as well.

This talk in the Guest Speaker series is being sponsored by Technology Voice.

Maureen Evans Talks About Her New Book “Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook”

Maureen Evans is the author of “Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook.” It contains over a thousand recipes and each one conforms to the 140-character limit that users on Twitter are limited to when writing their tweets. The book evolved from her Twitter stream @cookbook and it is the opposite of any kind of contrived gimmick. Maureen is a poet and this work is a work of poetry: poetry from which a fine meal or a quick snack can be derived.

She has always been interested in food. While living in San Francisco and having access to all of the fine California produce at the Farmer’s Market, she became inspired to write the original tweets.

How did you come to write it?

“[I have] lots of friends who love cooking equally as much, but they also tended to be geeks. [They were] working in the tech industry, maybe too many hours a day to have the ideal conversations about food that I wished we could be having after work: talking about what’s really great this season. I started this stream in order to communicate with these friends of mine, literally what I was doing in my kitchen and putting it out on Twitter.

“I really didn’t think in the beginning that the condensed form was going to be remarkable, but after challenges from my friends to tweet increasingly more complex recipes I kept it up. After a few years of writing the stream, I was approached by a reporter from the New York Times who, amazingly, wanted to do a feature on my Twitter stream, and this brought it to the attention of some agents and publishers. I was lucky enough to be approached by my favourite cookbook publisher, Artisan Books.”

How much of a challenge was it to turn your stream into a book?

“When I was approached by Artisan they asked for about a thousand recipes, which is approximately the size of Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” or a Julia Child book. So it’s an incredible number of recipes, and I wasn’t sure I could write that many and stay sane. It involved editing the web collection and adding an additional six hundred. So it was a challenge but I was surprised by how constantly inspired and really easy the work was because there is so much dimension to cuisine. Especially, as the work involves different ethnicities and approaches to food, I never got bored for a second.”

There’s a definite poetic element to it. Was it approached as a work of poetry?

“Certainly, I have many ideas of similarities between these recipes and poetry. One is that the reader has to bring their own knowledge and their own creative mind to either genre of art. A poem is a little unlike a novel in that it relies entirely on the mechanics of the reader’s mind to that purpose. We’ve all read poetry that does nothing for us. We’ve all read poetry that just hits us like something heavy in the heart. That’s the work of the reader. So in the same way I attempted to make [the recipes] poetic in their own way. I tried not to make the language inhuman, but at the same time they rely entirely on the reader to come to life.

“Recipes that hold your hand and tell you exactly how to shake the pan […] are very much in vogue and I think there’s a place for that. But there’s also a place for a traditional sense of empowerment in the kitchen that one can figure out a problem creatively and add their own flair to the solution. So that’s the service these little recipes provide for people.”

A lot or work went into the production of the book itself.

“This is where writers are indebted to the publishing community and the amazing people you find in publishers. The designer of this book was fantastic. They tried to give it a community feel, like an old cookbook that your workplace or your children’s school might put together, [but] at the same time giving it a contemporary typographic look. Their expertise was concentrated on this project for an appreciable amount of time. That in combination with the editors who were willing to take this new form of writing very seriously, as seriously as I do, at least, if not more – it raised it to another level.”

What do you mean by new form of writing?

“A new genre of cookbook, which is a funny thing to say, as we think of cookbooks as reference books, sometimes we think of them as a coffee-table book or something you read for entertainment. This is more a book of maps. These maps are to give you guidance to your own experiences, like any map. If offers you a path to getting there and where then is up to you.

“Whether you are going to use this book because you are in a rush and you want to send a recipe to yourself on your phone so you can do your grocery shopping, or [to] try a dish from a foreign cuisine you never heard of before – it’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure puzzle book.”

Would you call yourself a poet and how does this project fit into your body of work?

“I’m definitely a poet… This breaks away in many ways from what I normally do, but in some ways it’s similar. I’m interested in very spare forms like haiku… I love concision and form, but only when it lets me do unexpected or contrasting things. So the similarity there is that I think that haiku lets you fit whole seasons or experiences of feeling into just seventeen syllables… These recipes allow me fit not only a whole cooking experience, but every recipe is a kind of gift to the people you meet.

“Cooking from these recipes is more like coding. Techies will appreciate the metaphor. It’s more like coding because you would never just read a reference manual for a programming language from start to finish and expect to be able to be proficient in that language. It’s all about experience, tinkering, trying to build something that you might not have built before. So that’s the approach that I hope people [will use who] to take to this book rather than thinking they have to become fluent in twitterese or something. It’s intuitive and it’s intelligent and as long as you are too it’ll work out fine.”

Maureen’s book “Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook” will become widely available on September 16th. She can be found on Twitter as @maureen and her recipes can be found as @cookbook We are hoping that more of her poetry will become available online and when it does we will be sure to notify you all in our blog stream.

SMXQ: Dave Marash

Dave Marash is an acclaimed American television journalist. He has reported on many major stories, both domestic and international, over a period spanning decades. When he joined Al Jazeera English as the network’s Washington, DC anchor it caused much public debate. Prior to that he worked with ABC News on Nightline, their flagship current affairs programme. Before Nightline, he spent more than a decade in local news and sports, and worked at ABC’s 20/20 and CBS Radio. The broadcaster won an Overseas Press Club Award for his 1972 radio reports on the Munich Olympic Games terrorist attack, and also received Emmy Awards for his Nightline coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing and for his coverage of the explosion of TWA Flight 800.

On 21st September 2010 at 12 PM, he will give a talk on ‘The Religion of Journalism: Our God is Reality – What’s There?’ at the Siobhan McKenna Theatre in NUI Galway for the MA in Journalism guest speaker series. We are happy to say that Dave’s talk will be sponsored by Technology Voice.

Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

From the day in my early teens, in the ‘Capitol of the Confederacy,’ Richmond, VA, when I knew in my heart I would never be a major league athlete, I aimed at play-by-play broadcasting as the next best thing. But in broadcasting and life, you do the jobs that are offered, and so I spun records, read the weather, and the news, as well as describing the odd athletic event. Even though I loved taking play-by-play assignments, and did make it to three major leagues, news was more interesting. Since 1959 I’ve done news or sports or something on American radio or TV. Best by far were the 16 years with ABC News’ ‘Nightline with Ted Koppel,’ where I became the overseas traveler and covered most of the major international stories of 1989-2005 for a broadcast of unique ambition and integrity. You may think of it as the progenitor of the BBC’s Newsnight, whose planning team modeled it on Koppel’s Nightline (alas, the broadcast has changed radically since he left it.)

What was your route into social media?

I’m a natural troglodyte. I only learned to text in 2008 because it was the only affordable way for my Chinese students to communicate. Necessity also wedged me into Facebook. I had joined earlier, but rarely visited. In China, by myself, half a world away from everyone I knew (although surrounded by several wonderful teaching colleagues and students), the social connection of Facebook became very important to me. Once I returned to the States in 2009, my Facebook use has dropped, but only a bit.

Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

Presently, I am pursuing two areas: First, watching the global explosion, maybe renaissance, of video news and information, particularly the proliferation of television news channels and internet video sites like YouTube.

My other obsession, is a long time mantra, ‘news at the speed of thought.’ Speed kills the representation of reality which is what journalism is supposed to do. Obviously, not the speed of events. Reporting is meant to move as fast as necessary. It’s the speed of the ‘news broadcast,’ the brevity of the reports, but even more so, the speed of the edits in montage. It is increasingly impossible for viewers ever to see what the videographer saw, at the very moment when technology has enabled remarkable levels of speed, accuracy and clarity in the global distribution of audio/visual information. Speed is the instrument of our auto-lobotomy.

What social media services do you use regularly and why?

Although I have accounts on other sites, the only one I use at all regularly is Facebook. Twitter, I might occasionally check during a breaking news event. By and large, although I’m at my CPU long hours of the day, it’s usually for more traditional forms of infosearching. It turns out I am even less virtually social than in real life/time.

If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?

E-mail. I love it, use it all the day. As my Chinese students taught me, through e-mail or text you can get almost anything. And at a speed and in a package my aging brain can use.

Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

To me, it’s all about the network, about the ever-increasing variety of interweaving and interconnecting mega-highways, and local byways which are changing the world as we know it. The new social, intellectual, economic options opening to people, are changing the way we think, speak, interact, spend our day. Much of this is for better. Some, I fear, for worse. All, I truly fear, is susceptible to outside manipulation of content, access and security.

What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

Interact with people, obtain information, especially visual information, like never before.

What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?

To me, the smartest thing Henry Kissinger ever said was this: ‘Today, alas, power goes to whoever wants it the most.’ Thus, as market activities, media can be moved by power, by politics, by greed: content can be shaped, access can be limited, people can be manipulated. The antidote to manipulation is reality, but the more time we spend on social media, the smaller our dose of ‘what’s out there,’ reality.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

My relative ignorance and inexperience suggest silence.

How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

By encouraging human communication, by spreading information of value, by giving evidence of the benefits of interdependence.

Dave will be speaking at the Siobhan McKenna Theatre from 12:00 to 13:30, Tuesday, 21st September.

Lin Clark On Why Drupal Matters

Drupal is a content management system that is free and open source. It allows you to build and configure complex and multi-faceted websites without first learning how to code or program. A new version, Drupal 7, is due for wide release very shortly. The system itself is stable and is in use on some major sites such as However, there are still some bugs in the upgrade process which are awaiting resolution.

Lin Clark majored in Communication Design from Carnegie Mellon University and is engaged in her Master’s program at DERI, NUI Galway in Galway, Ireland. Her thesis is entitled “Semantic Web Technologies and Content Management Systems”. For those interested in working with Drupal or who are just starting out, she has made a series of video tutorials which can be found on YouTube and at

Lin has been closely involved with the Drupal community since she attended Drupal Camp Chicago in 2008. As she says, “There’s a funny saying in Drupal, ‘Come for the code, stay for the community.’ That totally happened with me. I came for the code and I fell in love with the community.”

In light of Drupal 7’s imminent arrival we took some time with her to ask some questions. One for the first was:

Why should we care?

Lin replied, “Any site that’s created with Drupal 7 will have RDF (Resource Description Framework) automatically turned on. That’s a good thing because it will allow search engines like Google and Yahoo to fully extract information from the data and present it in a way that the user can actually make sense of it in the search result. It also means that different services can pull different information from different sites… And present it in different ways. So, it offers a lot of benefits for data publishers and data consumers.

“Right now I am actually focussed on actually helping the people in Drupal figure out how to consume this information that is going to be exposed. People aren’t going to figure out why you should expose this information until they figure out how they are going to use it.”

Why is that important?

“If there’s a website that has RDF on it, it publishes RDF, that’s great, but no one’s doing anything with it. That’s kind of a problem when people don’t see what they can do with the data. Because then they don’t see the reason to put it out there.

“I am actually working on something in Drupal that allows you to use the Views module, which is one of the most widely used modules. It basically makes it easy for site administrators who don’t know SQL, who don’t know any query languages, to create queries on their database without having to learn any query language.

“It’s a visual query builder… It tells you what’s in that data set, what’s on that website and you can just say, ‘I want this thing, this thing and this thing and show it on my site this way.’ So, I think that helping people understand that they can do that with information will help them see why they should publish their own information that way.”

How will Drupal 7 change things?

“It’s one more step towards making all of our information interoperable. Right now there are a lot of people who have jobs where they are just fixing interoperability issues between different data sets.

“I would like to see those kind of jobs move up the ladder as far as they are an intellectual challenge, you know, because a lot of those jobs aren’t intellectually fulfilling jobs. We could move all of that resource to actually solving world problems. Actually investing in research that will stop climate change and all these things. Also once all the data is in this easily encoded and processable format, scientists can take data sets from seemingly unrelated fields and combine them and find new drugs, new compounds, come up with new hypotheses… Altogether all of the Semantic Web stuff is going to change the world and this is just one more step in getting the Web to the point where we’re sharing this information, not just pages.”

Where does one start?

“Basically, if you install Drupal 7 you have everything out of the box. You are already publishing RDF. So, it would just be a matter of moving your site to Drupal and that’s how you get involved… You can get really, really involved and be bringing in data from DBpedia which is the Linked Data version of Wikipedia. Or, you can be bringing in data if you are a scientist from the gene database. Or, bringing in data from all these linked data data sets like the BBC’s Wildlife or MusicBrainz. You could be doing that with a module so you don’t have to know the query language, you don’t have to know all the underlying technology. You can just install a module and you are ready to go.”

We are planning to upgrade the Technology Voice site with Drupal 7 when it is released, and we will write an article on how it went and what we found. In the meantime, if you are interested in moving to Drupal a good place to start, as mentioned in the article, would be with Lin’s video tutorials. You can find them on YouTube and at