Rendezvous353: Putting the Social into Social Networks

Rendezvous353, the Irish social network which aims to link Irish people around the globe, celebrates its first year in operation this month. The site was dubbed “The Irish Facebook” on its introduction, and its format was not dissimilar aside from the uniquely irish dimension. However, with Ireland experiencing the highest net outward emigration since the late 1980’s, Rendezvous353 has taken on an increased significance, beyond that of social networking.

One of the founders of the site, Richard O’Donnell, sees comparisons with Facebook as, “nice and complimentary,” but sees Rendezvous353 (the 353 refers to the international dialling code for Ireland) as being, “more of a six out of ten Linkedin and a four out of ten Facebook, if you like.”

These comparisons are convenient as Richard explains, “If you can give a picture as to what you do in five seconds instead of fifteen seconds or even fifteen minutes, that’s a good thing.”

Richard has seen that, with Ireland experiencing severe recession, networking has become more important, especially for those leaving to seek opportunities abroad.

“These days, because of economic circumstances, people are out there trying to do business and looking for opportunities. I suppose it’s not rocket science, is it? You could probably predict it. The jobs side of things is very popular because of the amount of people who are emigrating or looking for work.”

“It’s that Irish thing we’ve been doing since the famine — which is when you turn up in New York and you’ve got a fag packet with ten names on the back you wander around ringing those people. Eventually someone says, ‘you know what, talk to this guy, he might have some work.’ We’ve automated that process.”

Where Rendezvous353 differ from being an Irish Facebook or an Irish Linkedin is in their activity in grassroots community development.

Adopting, “The Wikipedia model, where they’ve got lots of volunteers that are helping with the site,” Rendezvous353 has placed ambassadors or “champions” in three key hub destinations for Irish emigrants; London, New York, and the Gulf States.

“What we found was, as people signed up, we could spot the ones that were doing most and were getting most from the site. So we approached three different people, one in the United kingdom, one in the Gulf states in Oman, and one in New York, and we said, ‘look, you’re enjoying the site, would you like to become champions?’ and they have. It allows us to have people on the ground to help those who might be emigrating to those areas.”

Richard has borne in mind his own experience of leaving Ireland. “I emigrated in the eighties to the U.K. and I got everything wrong, it took me three months to get everything right again, but it would have been nice if I could have called up Conor who lived in Hampstead and said ‘How’s it going Conor? I see you’re on Rendezvous353, I’m going to be in London in two weeks time, is there any chance I could buy you a pint and pick your brains?’”

It is activity like this Richard says, which give Rendezvous353 “a bit more depth than other social networking sites out there. We’re not a charity, Rendezvous353 is definitely not a charity. We hope to make money, but there’s more of a benevolence than perhaps other social networks. It’s a try and help if we can model.”

Rendezvous353 is still a social network however, “There’s craic involved as well. There was a case before Christmas, where a woman in Singapore came onto Rendezvous353 and said, ‘I’m a bit lonely, I’ve been out here two years, I’ve got three kids, I’d love to meet some people’. So we put her in touch with a few people on the site and now I believe they meet in some coffee shop every Friday, and six of them get together and have a bit of craic. So that’s the nice social side of what we’re doing too. It’s extremely satisfying when you help somebody.”

The prominence of the site has been boosted considerably by an association with Ireland.com, who approached Richard and his colleagues in September 2010 with the idea of a partnership. “We’re delighted with the partnership because Ireland.com is a global brand and a household name which also has an association with The Irish Times. It was an obvious fit for us, and there’s a commercial side of it as well insofar as we can endeavour to make some money with them through advertising and various other commercial things we’re doing with them.”

With Ireland.com on board, and the network of ambassadors set to be extended in the coming months the agenda of Rendezvous353 will be increasingly dominated by its members as their numbers grow. “It is the members who will dictate which direction you’ll go in. We’re very judicious in our moderation, we just stand back and watch, and it takes its own balance.”

Tunepresto: Using Algorithms to Create Music for Videos

It has never been easier to make your own videos. A decent camera can be picked up for a fraction of the cost of a fully loaded professional camera. Editing can be done for very little additional cost on your desktop with software such as iMovie for the mac or Microsoft’s Windows Live Movie Maker 2011. As minimally functional as they are, they pack enough features to get started and turn out a something worthwhile in a relatively short time..

But when it comes to adding a music soundtrack to your video it can be become a real challenge to find a suitable piece of music. The options for those that are not so musically inclined or are unwilling or unable to pay royalties for material under copyright options can suddenly become very limited.

Even if the payment of a royalty fee is waived seeking permissions and searching through audio libraries can feel like an extreme process to undergo when all you want is a soundtrack for a video that you are going to share with some friends on YouTube or Facebook.

For those with a talent for music there is always the option of creating your own soundtrack but such ability seems not to be distributed equally or fairly amongst the population at large leaving the not so gifted with little hope in the realms of self-composition. So what to do?

Tunepresto is a web-based music maker. It generates original copyright free music to match your video or your slideshow presentation. How it works is really simple from the user’s perspective.

  • You upload your video or enter your YouTube URL and the Tunepresto software analyses the video.
  • The user then selects a style of music from the range of styles that are available on the system.
  • The software then generates a piece of music that exactly fits your video.

If you like it you can then download it and get the combined video and music file.

The idea for Tunepresto came when Siún Ní Raghallaigh, a television producer and her co-founder Justin McCarthy, a video editor, were chatting about what a pain it is to deal with copyright music and wouldn’t it be great to just press a button and have a music track composed for you.

As Siún says, “We were coming from a professional background and we were targeting a professional market. But whilst everybody thought it was a great idea the take up was a slow. So we decided to do some more market research.

“We learned a hard lesson. Our idea was not for the professional market. Our target should really be the consumer market. We refocused and changed the whole way we were approaching Tunepresto, the way we were marketing it and how we were targeting it.

“Part of what we discovered from the market research we did with our existing customers was that while we packed the desktop product with loads of great features all they wanted to do was press the compose button.

“We had put in a timeline, we had put in markers, you could change instruments and loads of different things but the majority of customers would just press compose. So we said, let’s do some of the decision making in the background as to what it produces but still use the same basic composition engine.

“We now have a one click solution, so to speak and we will be market led as to what we make available after that. If we add more features we want it to be what the user wants not what we think they want.”

Tunepresto have developed an algorithm that when presented with a video containing certain elements that it has detected in the video it can then generate a musical composition appropriate to the information presented to it.

Siún explains, “This is not pre-recorded music. This is not music loops. This system is actually making original music. It is generating the music based on the information that it is extracting from the video and the selection the user makes in terms of style of music. It is making new music to suit that particular video.”

SOCIETIES: Combining Pervasive Computing with Social Networks

SOCIETIES is a project to bring together social computing and pervasive computing into one overall framework that can be deployed to allow third party developers to provide next generation services beyond what is possible today. Pervasive computing is about making technology disappear into the background so that users can remain unaware that technology is acting on their behalf.

Pervasive computing uses information derived from the array of sensors and devices that make up the context of our digital lives. Context could be your location at given times of the day, the number of cars on the road or the weather. Any information that can be digitally discerned from our actions and interactions with our environment and that can be turned into data provides the context in which pervasive computing can work.

This context information can be combined with an individual user’s personal preferences for how they want technology to act on their behalf and how they in turn interact with technology. That enables them to make proactive decisions for the use of these services and be able to obtain a more personal and relevant experience.

The SOCIETIES project launched in October 2010 and there are sixteen partners. Eight are academic partners and eight are industrial partners. It is funded under Europe’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7.) SOCIETIES is the largest integrated project out of the fifth call for project submissions for FP7 and it is the only one that has been coordinated by an Irish academic partner. In this case the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG) which is based in the Waterford Institute of Technology.

Kevin Doolin, Chief Engineer and Chair of the Scientific and Technical Board at TSSG, explains further, “We are merging pervasive computing with the whole area of social networking and social computing.

“The key thing in SOCIETIES is that we would be providing services that are context aware on behalf of an entire community of users rather than the individual users that have been catered for up until now.

“You have these smart phones, smart cars and smart offices but all these entities work in isolation. There is no real interoperability between the different smart environments that are out there.

“What we are doing in SOCIETIES is building a framework and bring these smart-spaces together so they can interoperate.

“You can have your own smart-space which would be you and all the devices that you own connected together. You could walk into a smart-office and your smart-space could actually connect into that smart-office environment, for example. And you can get access to various services within that office. It could also be in a supermarket or at the side of the street or anything else.

“With SOCIETIES we have taken that quite a step forward. We are dealing with communities of users and providing services for multiple users at the same time. There are many issues there. First of all, ‘How do you find the users that would form a community?’

“We could do that by social networks. We can mine data out of social networks. For example, if you go to a conference and you have an interest in pervasive computing and you’re subscribed to the SOCIETIES system we could then find out how many other people at that conference have similar interests to yourself. We could then join them to you digitally and share whatever you want to share; data, experiences, business cards, and everything would be done dynamically.”

It is not such a big step to go from the idea of technology being pervasive to the idea of it being intrusive. Privacy and security are notions that are still highly valued by many people despite claims that the Age of Privacy may be over.

As Kevin says, “Security, trust and privacy are critical issues to deal with. Everything I have said so far sounds like Big Brother, monitoring the users, following them everywhere and knowing their every move. But we can only do that if the user is happy for us to monitor them like that. We have a lot of research that has been done into users privacy requirements, security requirements and trust requirements.

“Using a social network as a context source isn’t something that is done at the moment. Combining that with personal preferences for a group of users is something that is very complicated to do. On top of that we have what we call a work package that is dealing with the personalization of services and taking proactive actions on behalf of the user. Then on behalf of the user within a community of users.

“Part of the challenge there is to actually learn about the users, their behaviours and how they interact with the technology and the services that are available.

“The integration of multiple different device types. Everything from your phone to your laptops, your digital photo frames, your fridge could potentially be integrated into this framework we are going to develop. So trying to develop an abstraction layer that will allow all these different devices to communicate and operate together is another one of the challenges we are going to face.”

Bringing together pervasive computing, the handling of data from derived from sensors in the environment and social networking technology is a daunting technical challenge. To accomplish this goal technologies will have to be created and developed that don’t exist yet. The future will have to be invented.

Technology Voice: An Introduction

Hi all,

As many of you may have noticed, we have been going through a process of rebranding over the last week – transforming our identity from socialmedia.net to Technology Voice.

There were numerous reasons for doing this, and here are just a couple:

  • Timing: Our readership has been growing steadily, and it was felt that if it was left any longer that it might be too disruptive for too many people.
  • The name: Social media is still one of our major focuses, and there is still much to learn from the activity in that space. However, we were becoming increasingly aware that more and more of our articles – while still focusing on new and emergent technologies – did not always include as much of a social media aspect or angle that one would expect from a publication with a title like Technology Voice.

So, instead of trying to force our stories to contain a social media aspect (which it may well contain, but not be totally germane to the narrative), we decided to find a name that reflects the sort of material that a reader would expect to find our pages.

Hence, Technology Voice. We post stories about new technologies that are coming over the horizon and that may not be necessarily with us yet, but that we think people should be aware of and know about.

We have broken up this remit into five separate classifications: Business, Mobile, Technology, Video, and, of course, Social Media. You can still read all of our stories in the main newsfeed, but you can also check out the channels that are closest to your own interests as well. Hopefully, in the spirit of curiosity, you will check out adjacent channels as well.

We realise change can be disruptive and it can take a little while to familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar, but we hope you like what we have done, and ultimately it will make having Technology Voice as part of your information intake more enjoyable.

John.

MUZU.TV: Official Video Music from the Original Artists

Launched in July 2008, MUZU.TV has one of the largest music video hosting sites on the web. It allows users access to videos, interviews, exclusive footage, music news and more. All the videos on the site are the legal and officially approved versions as MUZU.TV works directly with record companies and artist’s representatives to ensure the authenticity of the material made available. With the strength of YouTube and the proliferation of other music websites, what makes Irish-based MUZU.TV different?

 Ciaran Bollard, CEO and co-founder of MUZU.TV believes, “There are lots of music sites out there and a lot of them are focused on audio. Then there is YouTube which would be our biggest competitor. YouTube has a mixture of user content and content from the music labels. Our service is dedicated to music fans so all the features and functions of the site are tailored to music fans so it offers a very different and unique experience.”

“Just by looking at the service you can see that immediately. It’s only focused on music content. It hasn’t got user-generated content. Clearly fans like that because we’re growing by 20% month on month.”

The MUZU team works with individual record labels and artists to promote the site. Ciaran explains, “you’ll see on most of the major artists’ pages, like Cheryl Cole who has millions of fans, you’ll see posts about MUZU on her page. All the major artists’ pages will post about MUZU because we have this initiative called the ‘Video Fight Club’ where we put an artist up against another artist and they have this competition over who has the best video.”

The site also maintains its competitive edge by launching new initiatives like the ‘Video Fight Club’ on a regular basis. The most recent is ‘MUZU Live and Loud’.

Ciaran explains, as in the first week for instance, “There’s going to be two major artists Jessie J and Ellie Goulding. We’ve two exclusive live sessions and these will be up against each other and Jessie J and Ellie Goulding’s fans will vote as to who’s the best.”

Other recent initiatives include:

  • A ‘best of live’ catalogue.
  • ‘Gig In Your Gaff’ competition where an artist will play live in your living room. It recently featured The Wanted.
  • Live streaming in-studio, recently featuring Rodrigo y Gabriela.

According to Ciaran, the MUZU catalogue currently has approximately 80,000 music related videos. It streams 10 million videos a month, mostly from UK and Ireland viewers. MUZU’ers have the ability to post comments below artists’ videos. With so much content, MUZU.TV is conscious of filtering.

Ciaran says, “We’re filtering comments as much as we can. It’s very difficult to react very quickly to all the comments that happen but the main thing is that the content on the site is not inappropriate content. The actual video content is all appropriate and we also use age filters as well.

“On our site we only focus on professional music-based content. Users cannot upload to the site, apart from uploading to, let’s say The Scripts’ channel. They can upload to the fan TV section and become a fan TV contributor but the band actually approves that content.”

The site generates income from advertising served in and around the music videos. In addition, MUZU.TV has created a partnership with Group M, a leading vendor of online advertising worldwide.

Ciaran explains that, “We’re very careful that we only serve a pre-roll ad (an advert that runs before an online video) for every one-in-three videos. There’s a balance. You’ve got to be able to support the business from a revenue perspective but, at the same time, the user experience is crucial.

“It’s all about offering the best consumer experience that we possibly can. We try to make the advertising very targeted to the age and genre that somebody is watching so it’s relevant advertising.”

MUZU is currently based in Dublin, Waterford and London. It had its beginnings in the DIT Hothouse, an innovation and technology centre located at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Ciaran remains a huge supporter of the programme. He feels it “is a fantastic way of supporting somebody who is in a current corporate job and wants to get out of that but still has a mortgage to pay and bills to pay.”

He says that, “What’s good about Hothouse is:”

  • You can network with other entrepreneurs in the same position.
  • You can get a grant which helps support your income for the first year of starting up your business.
  • It gives mentoring around your business plan.

With MUZU.TV recently expanding into France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Benelux this specialist music website conceived by Irish entrepreneurship and built with Irish technology has carved a niche that seems to be ever-expanding.

Tethras: Making It Easier to Connect App Developers With Translators

Tethras derives its name from an ancient Irish sea Goddess who was Chief of the semi-divine Fomorians. That it sounds a little like Tetris is a happy coincidence for the Dublin based company which was founded in 2010 by Brian Farrell and Brendan Clavin. Tethras provides software for developers to help them provide localization services for their apps.

If the content of your app is in English and you want a Frech, German or some other language version then localization services have been the traditional places to go to to have translations done of your text, audio and so on. Brian explains why their service is unique and different, “We are offering a software service that is resident in the cloud. Our customers and suppliers can log on and either provide us with goods and services or purchase goods and services from us.

“A normal localization company would normally appoint an account manager to you as a client. Then there is the finance aspect of the billing and you will have a project manager who may work with an engineer to extract content from your software. You will also have someone else who will either inhouse or outsource the translators.”

As a consequence, inside a standard bricks and mortar localisation you are looking at a number of different people fulfiling a number of different functions which all have to be paid for.

As Barry explains further, “Our offering removes those layers from the process. It allows the developer to do the same functions of all those people. We have effectively automated all those jobs.”

There is significant potential in this market. In the last quarter Apple up until January 2011 Apple’s total revenue was $26.741bn out of which the Greater China market accounted for some $2.6bn or 9.7% of all sales. According to Gartner in 2010 Western Europe and North America accounted for 52.3% of all smartphone sales. It is fairly easy to surmise that there is a growing opportunity to provide apps for people in their native language.

According to Brian, “By publishing only in English developers are ignoring up to half their potential market.”

Tethras only works with the Apple ios at the moment which runs on the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. However, they will be able to work Android apps soon.

One question that many startups get asked about their business is, ‘How do you compete with Google.’ Or in this case, Google Translate.

Brian responds, “Google Translate is a machine translation service and you couldn’t really ship a quality product with machine translation in it. It is quite obvious to the end user that it is not a human translation. To be fair, just like Ryan Air, it does exactly what says it will on the tin. It’s a very useful tool to view foreign language web sites and actually make sense of them. It does a very good job at that.

“If you are selling something in foreign language your customer would expect to be able to read that with out a problem. We have 400 translators at the moment. They are freelance and work assignment to assignment. Our business is limited in its ability to scale by the need to find more translators. We have inhouse multi-linguists who work to keep the quality high through checking as opposed to doing translation themselves.

“For instance, 3D Heartpro is a medical app. You don’t mess around in terms of translating medical content. It’s the sort of thing that can get you in front of a judge fairly sharpish. For that job we used the highest quality medical translators many of whom were actually doctors.”

“We not only do translation and localization of your words we will do translation and localization of your images. Some of our customers have audio in their games. We would strip the audio out and use and we would have a proper foreign language actor come into our studio, speak the words and then put them back in the game where they should be.

“We offer the same service that a full-size localization company would offer but we do it in such a way the developer doesn’t have to deal with all the different layers and the cost point is reduced as we have eliminated a great number of the intermediate processes.”

Data Mining: Using Predictive Analysis and Social Network Analysis

Data mining is the extraction of information from raw data. It describes the attempt to find hidden patterns within the data and determine what they might mean. Eric Robson leads the Data Mining and Social Networks Analysis Group at the TSSG which is based at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland. It is a small group mainly concentrated on the commercialization of research.

They look at data in two main ways; predictive analysis and social network analysis. The general approach in predictive analysis is in the classification and grouping of users, customers or subscribers.

These tools are tend to be used by large organizations such as supermarket chains and telecoms operators. They are expensive in terms of software and hardware and expensive in terms of the people who need to operate these systems.

Eric explains further, “For instance, a large supermarket has many thousands of customers and many thousands of products to sell. Usually each customer is tracked via their charge card or their club card and we are able to see return visits.

“On day one, a customer might buy bread and some butter. On day three, they buy some more bread but it might not be until day fourteen that they need to buy some more butter. From this simple example we can see how a trend or a purchasing pattern can be determined.”

In telecoms, another area where there are a great many users and frequent and variable engagement with the services or products provided customers are profiled in terms of their usage.

“Once we have a profile we can see when things go wrong or are not working as they should be. It can help us with fault detection or fraud detection.

“One of the major security risks is SIM-cloning. Where someone can get hold of your SIM card, clone it, and then make calls using your account. Suddenly on your bill you see a whole lot of calls going out to countries you never actually called.”

Knowing what constitutes a normal pattern of behaviour for a given customer allows the system to alert its administrators of unusual or anomalous activity.

In a previous article we gave a brief overview of the social network analysis. We described it as a way of measuring how we are connected. The Data Mining Group at the TSSG have an interest in making this technology more useful to the general business community.

“In social network analytics people are constantly passing messages to each other. From a marketing perspective we can look at who we should be targeting to send our viral message out to for further [propagation.] Who are the biggest distributors of content? It may not necessarily be commercial entities. It could be; bloggers, people with very active Facebook accounts, people with very active Twitter accounts.

“In terms of product, we can start identifying who are the key influencers. Say, I wanted to sell something like running shoes and this guy is a marathon runner and blogs about them. If we know that people listen to him then the running shoe manufacturer can start targeting this guy. ‘Here’s a free pair of running shoes. Tell us what you think of them.’ More importantly, ‘Tell the world what you think of them.’

“If someone is blogging about something we want to understand exactly what they are blogging about and what their opinion was on that subject. Did they like it or not like it? To extent did they like it or not like it?”

These tools end to be used by large organizations such as supermarket chains and telecoms operators. They are expensive in terms of software and hardware and expensive in terms of the people who need to operate these systems.

Eric says, “We decided to see if we could make it applicable to the SME, small and medium sized enterprise, market. We took these techniques and put them into our cloud based system.

“We will host the infrastructure and host the knowledge and techniques that people need and we will put it up as a pay as you go service.”

As yet, this service is not live but the Data Mining and Social Networks Analysis Group are still able to bring their knowledge and expertise to the marketplace. In an arrangement called an Innovation Partnership setup in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland they are working with a Dublin based company called Datafusion International. They write software for law enforcement agencies such as The Gardai – the Irish police service and Homeland Security in the US.

Each of these agencies has a number of data sources. They are able to access data from such things as the land registry to determine the owner of a property or the vehicle registry to determine ownership of a car, van or some other vehicle. Also, they have access to revenue records and court transcripts.

These are all discrete sources of data that the law enforcement agencies but the only problem is that they are all separately housed in their own departments such as the departments of justice, the departments of transport, the ports authorities and so on. However, there is no linkup between them.

Eric explains, “ What they said to us was, ‘We have all this data. We would like to try and link people together. We would like to see a social network map of everybody in the system.

“So, we took all that data and started discerning relationships between them. If two people had the same address we would put a link between them. If they came in on the same flight we would also be able to indicate that there was a link between them

“We are using a product called Gate from the University of Sheffield. It is a term extraction engine. We can look at any kind of news article or any piece of free text and it will parse that text. It will tokenize it and break it up into different parts of speech in terms of what’s a noun and what’s a verb. But more importantly it will identify the names mentioned in the article and who are they mentioned in relation with.”

“We don’t used linked data technology as yet but we do use fuzzy logic. The software is designed to be used by trained individuals within the various law enforcement agencies. Although the program can identify different persons or the same person in different places there will be a human presence involved in the process of checking and verifying identities.”