Open Data Challenge on July 4th and 5th

Ireland’s first ever 18-hour Open Data Challenge is being held at the National Digital Research Centre in Dublin this July 4th and 5th. During this free event, which is open to the public, participants will work in groups to try and develop creative and useful business ideas based around open data. The Open Data Challenge is being organised by the NDRC’s Inventorium programme in partnership with Dublin City Council, Finglas Council, the Irish Internet Association, and Microsoft.

Inventorium is one of the NDRC’s three programmes, the other two being the LaunchPad and Catalyser programmes, and it is a three year, European-funded, project that is taking place across Ireland and Wales. Inventorium’s primary focus is “on idea generation, and pre-incubation digital innovation”, according to Dr. Teresa Dillon, who is the programme’s senior content development manager.

The organisers at Inventorium see great potential in Open Data as a basis for creative new business opportunities.

“I think open data is hugely important at the moment. I guess it got a lot of momentum from the Obama election in 2009, but the EU, for example, has had policies in place since 2003 looking at how the governments can make the data they collect on our behalf available to us in an easy to digest format.

“If you’re moving into an area, and you’re wondering, for example, where your nearest bank or your nearest refuse collection is, or is there a safe beach? What are the primary schools like? What’s the level of crime? All these types things are the type of data that the government collects on our behalf.

“I think what we find interesting as well is that this data can also be used to develop new products and services and businesses, because how you actually engage with that data and how you actually might use it is another layer upon just providing it. So the governments and councils are now providing it, but it’s actually how do you use the data after that.”

A number of initiatives at local government level have meant that there is now ample opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs to put this data to good use.

“From the NDRC perspective and the Inventorium perspective it’s about stimulating economic activity”, says Teresa.

“We’re always entitled to see it, and we’re always entitled to ask for it, but it’s actually now being provided. So, Fingal council, for example, have seventy such datasets available now. And Dublin City Council, via their initiative, Dublinked, are also now encouraging all of the four local authorities to make the data that they collect public as well.”

“How can you use this data to develop new businesses and new creative businesses in this space? It’s not just about apps or online web services, it’s also about data visualisation.

“Imagine you’re walking down the street and you actually know how much water is being consumed by every house on your street. And maybe five years down the road your street needs to know how much water it’s using and needs to regulate it. Data visualisation techniques can actually start to expose some of that based on open data sets, and then you start to get into a whole different level of thinking about community and common good and sharing resources and really an awareness of what we’re actually using within our society.”

Irish Technology Leadership Group Wins PR Award

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L-R: Eilish Joyce, Cian Hughes, Brendan Murphy

The Irish Technology Leadership Group has been recognised by the Public Relations Consultants Association of Ireland in their Awards for Excellence in Public Relations 2011 for generating positive international publicity for Ireland during the depths of the negative media coverage surrounding the EU/IMF bailout last November.

The Silicon Valley based grouping of Irish and Irish American technology leaders, which aims to connect young Irish technology companies with influential Silicon Valley figures, and to advance the cause of the Irish technology industry, won the award for their campaign in November 2010 which resulted in a positive Irish story gaining national and international coverage even as details of Ireland’s bank bailout emerged.

The award, shared with PR firm Financial Dynamics (FD), was in the category of Best Corporate Communication Campaign to Protect, Promote & Enhance the Reputation or Profile of a Corporate Entity, for the ITLG’s publicity campaign surrounding their “Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” event.

Cian Hughes Head of Operations of the Irish Technology Leadership Group, says that the organisation was, “very pleased to have won the award”.

“We’re absolutely delighted because we were up against tough opposition from Bord Gais, Cisco, Ecclesiastical Insurance, and Keane PR.”

“We had a very strong group of people who came over from the states. Some very well-known names, and some great technology leaders, so that captured the imagination”, explained Mr. Hughes.

Mr Hughes was quick to acknowledge the role of Financial Dynamics in organising the media campaign, and highlighted the work of Brendan Murphy and Eilish Joyce in particular.

“For us, obviously, it creates awareness, but also I think it to some extent rewards some of the hard work that was put in by FD”

As part of the event, a number of notable Silicon Valley figures, including former Intel chairman Mr. Craig Barrett, travelled to Ireland and participated at event in venues such as NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Limerick.

Despite the negativity in the international press regarding Ireland, and in the Irish press itself widespread media coverage was garnered for the visit of the Silicon Valley delegates, including RTÉ television and radio, TV3, and most notably, an eight minute interview with Mr. Barrett on Bloomberg’s “In Business” programme, a slot which has been valued as worth between €300-400,000.

Speaking of the Bloomberg piece, the station’s first ever broadcast from Limerick, Mr. Hughes said, “that was probably the highlight”, although the sustained media campaign also received coverage in The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, Newstalk radio, and Reuters.

The ITLG now plans to double the size of the event next year, largely due to the profile built up by last year’s campaign.

Shazam takes on TV

Shazam’s receipt of $32 million in funding to increase its forays into the world of television is likely to see the London-based company finally bridge the gap between television and mobile.

The music recognition app will link the small screen of the past with the small screen of the future by making the televisual experience a more interactive one, in a manner which is likely to appeal to consumers and marketers alike.

TV production companies and advertising executives have long laboured to find a way to tap into the mine of potential revenue that the Internet represents, but with limited success thus far. While most adverts and many television shows have been emblazoned with their web addresses as well as pleas to follow them on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the interaction was always likely to be minimal; not everyone watches television with their notebook on their lap, and few are likely to note a web address or Twitter handle for later investigation.

TV networks and advertisers have sought to provide this sort of interaction previously, with apps being developed for individual shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, but this requires a level of effort and separation from the television which is too great for the world of advertising.

Where Shazam looks set to succeed in this regard is in the fact that it currently has 150 million users worldwide. No television show or corporate advertiser could ever hope to have that wide an uptake of a dedicated application.

By taking its hugely popular sound-wave recognition technology and simply applying it to certain televised content, Shazam has turned an already successful business model into one that has garnered serious interest from investors, and corporate customers.

Shazam has built up its own database of songs for their music recognition service, but the TV service, first showcased during the 2010 Super Bowl interval, differs in that it only works for adverts or shows that have paid Shazam a fee for which it will link the user to whatever content the advertiser wishes, be it an an extended version of an advert, competitions or an online store.

As with Twitter and Google before it, Shazam is looking likely to have the addition of a new verb to the English language to its credit, as adverts and television programmes now exhort their viewers to “shazam” their screens to gain access to the extra content available via their mobile devices. A new entry into the vernacular of our time may not have any tangible monetary value, but is a sure sign that your product has entered the public consciousness, and there is money in ubiquity.

A number of high-profile customers have already used Shazam in their campaigns, ranging from TV shows on the Syfy network, to music artists like Faithless. The trick for Shazam is that its clients will do the marketing for it; as more adverts and TV shows urge their viewers to “shazam” the content, the brand will become more recognisable.

Shazam’s marketing representatives have stated that music recognition remains its bread and butter, and that they expect TV to account for half of the company’s revenue within two years, but the reality is that it has more than likely left the crowded digital music space behind it in favour of a far more lucrative model.

NUI Galway Acknowledges the Importance of Innovation in Engineering

The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) launched its Engineering Innovation (Electronic) today. The location was the brand new Engineering Building which stands alongside the River Corrib. A new course, a new building, and some new thinking as well.

In his opening remarks, Professor Gerry Lyons, Dean of Engineering at NUIG, made it very clear why the word ‘innovation’ was in the title of the course, “The graduates of the future of this University will be graduates that will create the economy of the future… We can create the future of Ireland if we put our minds to it.”

The opportunity this course has been created to respond to is the need for engineering graduates to be more innovative.

China and India have been producing engineers by the hundreds of thousands yet still the home for breakthrough technology is Silicon Valley. But as Professor Lyons points out, Ireland is not that far behind, “The little piece that is missing is entrepreneurship.”

It is expected that this new thinking followed by this new approach to educating engineering graduates at NUIG may provide the missing link. “Innovation is going to come from a new type of engineer… We at NUIG are well-positioned to create the engineer of the future. An engineer who is confident and creative enough to expand out beyond narrow confines… and actually think about the possibility of doing things in new ways, creating new products and new services.

“I have no doubt that through the innovation of engineers that we will see very significant growth and expansion in this country in the near future.”

These thoughts were echoed by Mike Conroy who came to officially launch the new course. Mike as well as being General Manager of Cisco’s Global Product Research and Development in Galway is also an alumnus of the University.

He said, “There was nothing to stop the prosperous expansion of the ICT sector in Ireland.

“An innovation culture is an imperative for building new start-ups and attracting… inward investment into Ireland. Innovation is driven by the intersection of talented engineers and visibility to key business problems and opportunities. Cross-disciplinary education in technology and innovation, like in this NUI Galway programme, is a great example of this as innovation needs to be at the heart of everything we do at all levels of education.”

The four-year course will produce graduate engineers with business and innovation skills alongside traditional engineering capabilities.

Graduates from this course will not only be qualified for regular engineering posts but will have the option to be able to make use of their integrated business skills to either start their own enterprise or be better prepared to take on more strategic roles in already established businesses.

NUI Galway’s John Breslin is the course director (and also the publisher of Technology Voice), and he says, “Industry feedback has told us that a multi-disciplinary approach to engineering education can provide a massive boost to job prospects.

“The Higher Education Authority also says that there is a need for greater emphasis on critical thinking, capacity for analysis and entrepreneurial perspectives in Irish engineering courses.

“The figures regarding employment in the technology sector are very encouraging for current
and future students. 5000 jobs have been created in this sector since 2010, according to the
director general of Engineers Ireland, and the director of ICT Ireland recently stated that there are about 3500 open jobs within the information and communications technology sector at present.

“The School of Business is right next to the Engineering Building and it is a great opportunity for creating this close-knit collaboration between engineering and the business skills that are needed for this course.”

Wiccle: Next Generation Content Management Systems

From an early age, Keith Killilea realised that he wanted to build software and create games as a creator instead of an end user. He began his career in tech with a Commodore 64 at the age of 12. Since then he has worked on more than 30 different gaming projects and setup his own game company called Star Cave Studios.

Established in June 2004, Star Cave Studios created “Camelot Galway – City Of The Tribes” which was published online by GarageGames Inc. in 2006. The company employed 14 in-house development staff of high-skilled experienced and non-experienced staff from Ireland, plus 12 external staff located in the US, Australia, Brazil and China. Star Cave Studios also held the first Galway Games Conference in 2004.

It was while taking a break from the gaming industry that Keith saw emerging opportunities on the Web that seemed to be following a similar pattern to what he had seen previously in the gaming industry. He observed that content management systems (CMS) had evolved to a similar point that games engines had reached in their own evolution.

Like games, CMS was beginning to have a wider appeal beyond just the aficionados – not only to end users but also to developers and graphic designers. This was largely because a lot of the principles of CMS had become established. Technically, there was no longer any need to reinvent the wheel at every iteration and prices were dropping as the market was expanding.

Wiccle takes the middle-ground approach to using CMS. It takes advantage of the ease of use that CMSs like WordPress have and combines it with the sort of robust code found in Drupal and Joomla.

Answering the question as to what makes Wiccle so unique Keith says, “Whether you’re just looking at posting blogs, sharing photos on your website, or developing a full-featured eCommerce portal, a flexible social network, or a rich media content portal, the Wiccle CMS differs by packing in dozen of modules by default.

“Whereas other CMSs on the market utilise only the core part of their system, Wiccle’s modules represent an independent software that you can literally create any kind of website from.”

Wiccle also differs from other CMS systems in that it come fully integrated as opposed to being modularised with various plug-ins. Keith says that, “This way it can properly utilise the core of the system better. Wiccle has an SEO engine under the hood across the entire core platform and the major advantage of this is to correctly do search engine optimisation of everything that is inputted by the end user with regards to their text.

“The very first line of code in the Wiccle CMS has SEO focus in mind and in this way it is built up from the creation of its framework, its core, its modules and its CMS all working in sync together.

“The administration panel is split up into two parts where a typical admin panel has been built and also where a builder panel is found. The builder is where any user of any level of skill can reshape their entire website around drag and drop through clicking and selecting for ease of use.”

Also, Wiccle has the capacity to build social networks. These can range from small social networks with forms to a massive social network with proper profiles, wall, status updates and forms and chat.

By building the CMS in this way, Wiccle has in effect created a playground for all its end users. They can shape anything and everything they want in order to create a unique bespoke website.

As downloads in the United States have exceeded expectations, Wiccle has decided open up an office in the Irish Innovation Center in San Jose, California. Keith is hoping to extend Wiccle’s reach further into the North American market.

Since Wiccle has had over 15,000 downloads in over 100 different countries globally, there are plans to introduce a software as a service version. It will be a version where users can quickly create any sort of website in a few minutes using a cloud-based platform.

ICANN Announces new TLD Names [VIDEO]

ICANN, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is the body that manages, amongst other things, the assignment of top-level domain (TLD) names.

Yesterday in Singapore it announced the expansion of generic names space such as .com, .net, .org to include numerous new suffixes.

Details are not finalised yet but by 2012 TLDs will be made available in any language or script. Additional categories such as geography and industry may also be introduced.

Most of the present range of TLDS have been in existence for the last 26 years and this opening up of the naming suffixes will create a plethora of new site names.

Malcolm Crompton: Can Privacy and Socio-economic Gain Co-exist?

As we place ever more of ourselves online, the market for our data has grown into a massive industry. Our personal data, our age, gender, location, and preferences are like a new currency which can be traded by those to whom we submit these details, like Facebook, for example, to retailers eager to reach their target markets in a way which would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

As the implications of this sharing of ourselves online begin to become apparent, fears have been raised over the potential misuse of online data.

According to privacy expert, and Managing Director of Information Integrity Solutions and former Privacy Commissioner of Australia Malcolm Crompton, the debate on Internet privacy is only beginning, and the key to its resolution is transparency, awareness and accountability.

“Privacy is not about keeping secrets. Privacy is about sharing with those with whom we want to share.

“I think we’ve still got a way to go, both in terms of Facebook telling us what they’re doing with the personal information, and us understanding and being able to act on what we’re told. Facebook does keep on changing the rules, all of the time, and this latest one which is suddenly beginning to apply face recognition technology without telling us in advance they’re changing the rules like that, is something where Facebook can clearly do better.

“On the other hand, even if we’d been given all this information; and Facebook, to give them their considerable due, gives you more controls at a very fine-grained level than any social networking site has ever done before; the issue is not just about, “are the controls there?”, or, “are we informed?”, but it is, “do we understand, and do we have the time to act on it?”.”

Malcolm uses the analogy of motor safety to describe the duality of responsibility needed when dealing with online data; a safe car on a safe road can still be crashed if driven irresponsibly.

“It’s the same thing with the Internet. We expect to be informed about what’s going on, and have people looking after our interests, but in the end, a lot of the responsibility still comes back to us as individuals. The companies can’t say it’s solely the responsibility of the individual, and the individuals can’t say it’s solely the responsibility of the companies.

Many companies which have access to our data are, Malcolm acknowledges, “trying to do something about it”.

“Apple is trying to give people some more controls on the use of its geo-location data. The various advertising network initiatives about trying to give people more information and more control over behavioural targeting in advertising, is an admission by those companies that they could do better. And the current debate is whether the initiatives are sufficient, or whether they still need to do even better.

“The real issue at the moment with these initiatives by business is whether they’ve got any form of governance arrangements in place, in other words a company that makes a promise to abide by these rules is actually abiding by these rules, and how well they allow for an individual who thinks that things have gone wrong, for whatever reason, to get something done about it. And so there’s still a lot of work to be done at that level.”

The debate over whether search engines should reveal that they filter search results, and what algorithms they use, as claimed by Eli Pariser in his book, “The Filter Bubble” is, Malcolm believes, “again, something that we are going to see evolve with time”.

“The first thing is to become aware of the fact that the Internet and search engines are not impartial. They may once have been but also, they were very difficult to use, because they were so dumb. Essentially, intelligence has been built into the search process, but along with intelligence, has come this filtering. So we’re looking at a phenomenon that is only a few years old.

“But guess what? People in Britain who read The Telegraph, get a completely different story from people who read The Times, which is a completely different story from the people who read The News of the World, or The Independent. So people getting the information that they want to receive, spelt out in a particular way that they understand and are interested in, is not new, and in a fact that was part of Eli Pariser’s message; this is not new.

“What he was saying was be aware that it is also happening on the Internet; we need to think about that. How far do we go? Is there such a thing as too far? If you go to the USA, there would be people that would argue that at least some of the television networks have gone too far in filtering news and current affairs.

“We’re at the very beginning of understanding what’s happening with, if you like, the Internet filter bubble, of understanding the existence of a filter bubble, let alone what is the socially appropriate outcome for letting business do business, presenting to people the kinds of things that they’re interested in without giving them rubbish, but not going so far that it becomes censorship or segmentation that’s unacceptable. It’s just at its very beginning.”

Of course, some people are happy to share their information, and care little who views it, but what is important, says Malcolm, is that the consequences of this are made clear to them, regardless of whether this would change their actions or not.

“In order to get a fair deal, you’ve got to know and understand what’s going on. People are not quite being told yet what is going on and certainly, not yet understanding what they’ve been told. So, there’s more to do.

“People may want to actively tell a website or tell others where they are, for example. but they’re not always being told the full story in a way that they understand, the implications of having given away that information. Statements like, “we will only share this information, your location data, with partners that we know you will enjoy receiving further information from that you will value”, what does that mean? It’s basically code for saying, “we’re going to sell this data as many times as we can to as many people as we can”. So why don’t they put it in a language that is blunt and clear and comprehensible?”

One thing that is certain, is that now that the debate is open, companies and users alike are becoming more aware of the privacy issue, and this is critical to any solution which might be reached.

“There’s no question that the current debates over geo-location, the current debates over Google street view, have raised awareness in a way that was not possible before. So, we’re still learning, but I think that the awareness is increasing, and I do think that we’re already seeing individuals being more selective than they were before, and I think it will continue.”

Many of the images used in this article are taken from this presentation of Malcolm’s.

San Jose Declares June 30 Social Media Day

Originally Technology Voice was called We changed the title because we discovered that as we were writing about the wider tech scene we felt that the title was no longer a fair reflection of our subject matter.

However, we have always felt, and still do, that the growth of social networks and their effect on us as individuals and as a society has had the single biggest effect on how we socialize and do business since the first electrical power plants were built.

Social media has become so much a part of our culture that a given individual can now become conspicuous by their absence from at least one of the networks. We have reached a point now where there can be negative consequences for not engaging with social media.

For a professional person not to have a Linkedin profile would raise a red flag with any potential future employer, or at the very least raise an eyebrow. Similarly, not having a Facebook profile or a Twitter account, while possibly reflecting a naivety about how social networks work or some sort of perverse rejection of modern mores, would have the same net effect — self-exclusion from a global conversation.

Isolating oneself as an individual is fine. There is no doubt that there are many people who wish to keep themselves to themselves and don’t wish to participate in an ever changing online social environment and that should be respected. However, for a business not to engage in with the phenomenon of social media is to put it bluntly, plain stupid.

Every business needs customers and the social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and so on are where the customers are. Almost 700 million of them are on Facebook alone.

Recognising the deep importance of the role that social media and social networks play in our lives the City of San Jose has just announced that June 30, 2011 is officially Social Media Day.

San Jose is a designated Global City because of the important role it plays in the world economy. It is known as Capital city of Silicon Valley which reflects its proximity to the headquarters and major operation centres of most of technological titans of our era.

The recent billion dollar refurbishment and upgrading of its airport to being one of the most technically advanced in the world is direct reflection of San Jose’s City council determination to be the gateway to Silicon Valley as well.

This purpose is to highlight the incredible importance of social media in our daily lives.

The Irish Technology Leadership Group, a network of over 1500 tech executives who are either Irish or of Irish descent, has in turn agreed to host a special event to mark the day.

Some of the leading figures in Silicon Valley have been gathered together in a special panel to discuss the significance of social media and its ramifications for business and the world around us.

What makes this special is that through the power of social media you will be able to partake in this event, engage with the panelists and ask them questions.

Social media is not a passive broadcasting service. What makes it so phenomenally effective is the extent to which it allows you to interact, share and exchange ideas and access people and resources that would never have been otherwise possible.

The panelists have been chosen to provide as broad a view of the area as possible.

Tom McEnery, ex-Mayor of San Jose and Rich Moran, venture capitalist and author, plus Charles Orlando have years of wisdom and experience to share and are all able commentators and observers of life in Silicon Valley.

Fergus Hurley of Clixtr, Philo Northrup of enVie Interactive and Kevin Spier of Bunchball are there to tell us how it is from the frontlines of innovation and product development.

All these people will have valuable insights to share.

Social media has, in just a few short years, become an indispensable part of the fabric of our lives. One question I would certainly put to this panel would be, “How do we prevent ourselves from becoming complacent about the possibilities that social media has to offer all of us and not take it for granted?”

One answer would be to keep taking the opportunity to engage with the opportunities that the technologies of social media and social networking afford us whenever they arise.

One such opportunity is the event taking place at the Irish Innovation Center on June 30 at 4pm.

San Jose Social Media Day, June 30

June 30 is Social Media Day at the Irish Innovation Center in San Jose, California.

At 4pm there will be a live global linkup across the internet.

Live at the IIC will be a panel discussion involving Tom McEnery, Rich Moran, Charles J. Orlando, Fergus Hurley, Philo Northrup and Kevin Spier.

The subject for discussion will be centred on the importance of Social Media in the modern business and tech world. However, participants will be able to put questions to the panelists from wherever they are in the world by means of the various social networking tools that are available.

There is more information here and don’t forget to register.