No Monolithic Social Media Solution

In this rather quiet inter holiday week while preparing for our last Technology Voice newsletter of the year I have been reflecting on my use of social media. More precisely, how social media, has perhaps, been using me.

I have been a subscriber to the excellent For Immediate Release: The Hobson & Holtz Report (FIR) podcast since its earliest days. I was first attracted to their offering, not by their consistently illuminating and wide ranging commentaries on issues concerning communications, social media and PR, but in their pioneering work of producing audio programmes for the internet.

As my interest in social media was slow to develop it wasn’t until I was turned on to FriendFeed by a colleague that I started making comments and having the odd mini-discussion with other subscribers to the FIR friend room. FIR was my means to becoming involved in social media.

Shortly after came the rise of Facebook (which purchased FriendFeed in the summer of 2009) and I switched over to using it because, quite simply, so many people were there. At one point I had over 300 ‘friends’ but over time I have now culled that figure back to under a 100 — all of whom I know.

One reason that I did this paring down is that although there are a lot of controls on Facebook as to who can and can’t see your status updates I just couldn’t be bothered to set them. All my friends on Facebook see the same thing. (Although not everything is public. Precise travel plans, etc.)

I found this to be quite limiting. There is a world of people out there (I would like to think or maybe just hope) who would love to know what catches my eye or my attention and that as a consequence I find interesting enough to share along with my occasional musings on this and that. And, as at times, I am semi-prolific in this matter, publishing everything to Facebook would probably place an undue burden on the patience of some friends that I know there.

So after experimenting with Tumblr, Posterous, and Typepad I was really quiet pleased that Google had bounced back from the stalled launches of Wave and Buzz with Google+.

But I still find myself operating within the same constraints concerning the content of posts and updates, albeit according to the channel I am using they differ in nature. Like Facebook, I still find that in all the other outlets what I upload is dictated by the nature of that medium.

There are things that I post on Tumblr that will never see the light of day in my Facebook or Google+ accounts and vice versa. This limitation to broadcast updates universally exists all across my channels.

At first I thought, like in the Facebook instance above, that the audience — my followers or friends — were the limiting factor. But I have only forty followers on Tumblr where I post quite a bit, about a thousand on Twitter where I am a fairly regular contributor and just under two hundred on Google+. Unlike Facebook, I hardly know any of the audience for these other updates. Leaving my familiar Facebook friends aside the only thing that differentiates what I broadcast to Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ is the technology itself.

By technology I refer to the means of making entries and the display of that material as content.

Marshall McLuhan said that the “message is the medium.” (I have linked to the Twitter feed as I find it apt for this article and entertaining in itself, if not always edifying. However, the lecture in the video below is well worth the time.) I was never very sure about what McLuhan meant but now that I can see that the content of my communications is parsed by the technology that I use I understand his point.

The good news is that there is no one-stop shop for communication on the internet. Just because Facebook is big it doesn’t mean it can be everything to everyone.

We all express ourselves in different ways at different times on different subjects to different audiences. The creative development of technology means that we have more and more opportunities to get our message out to the world in different ways.

What we have to say will be revealed by the constraints of the technology with which we have to say it. If we better able to express ourselves through better technologies and their associated mediums then we have a lot to look forward to over the coming years.

StreamGlider: More Control Over Managing Content Streams

John Breslin, one of the owners of Technology Voice, along with Nova Spivack and Bill McDaniel launched a new app for the iPad today — StreamGlider. It is a next-generation, multimedia newsreader that sets its stall out in the same corner of the marketplace as the likes of Pulse and Flipboard, but with a difference.

According to John, “We believe that we have something unique here that no other newsreader offers. At the moment you can have a rugby stream or a Formula 1 stream but you can’t mix and match them together. A lot of the readers only allow you to see those streams as single entities. With StreamGlider you can view your content whatever way you want to view it.

“You could compose a sports stream from feeds about GAA, Formula 1 and rugby, and have that gliding alongside a stream made up of computer games, technology and movie content. But you can then share your stream mixes with friends, a bit like the way people shared mix tapes of their favourite songs in the 80’s.”

The team behind StreamGlider, which has been in development for over a year-and-a-half, have also adopted a different philosophy concerning user interaction with the application than is commonly found in other content readers.

“With StreamGlider you can view your content in a grid mode or in a magazine mode,” says John. “Applications like Pulse or Flipboard are very much ‘lean forward.’ You have to interact with them. But StreamGlider can work well in a ‘lean back’ mode. In the grid mode you have a series of streams that are constantly being updated and gliding by in real time. Hence, the name StreamGlider.

“If you want to do the lean forward thing where you want to read the articles, there is a preview and you can tap on that. If you want to have it running on your desk or in your kitchen you can have that mode as well.”

StreamGlider is just for the iPad at the moment, but there are plans for iPhone and Android versions in the near future.

Christmas may turn out to be a very good time to release an app like this. John is hoping that since, “many people are buying iPads for presents we want to be ready to be downloaded on to all those new devices.”

StreamGlider is available in two versions, Lite and Pro, and can be downloaded from the App Store on the iPad, or via www.streamglider.com/download

Next-generation newsreader for the iPad is launched by co-founder of boards.ie

StreamGlider, a next-generation multimedia newsreader that competes with Pulse and Flipboard on the iPad, was launched today by StreamGlider, Inc., a US corporation co-founded by John Breslin of boards.ie fame.

StreamGlider provides a new way to distribute content to various platforms, and is being rolled out initially on the iPad, with future versions for other tablets, phones, PCs and even TVs. It pulls and plays any kind of content (text, video, photos, music, social media, RSS, APIs), enabling new mashups, real-time slideshows, filters, search and gestures.

StreamGlider goes beyond other newsreaders by allowing users to manage their streams of content in three different modes: a grid newsreader mode featuring StreamGlider’s multi-stream news ticker, a media magazine mode, and a real-time slideshow mode.

“StreamGlider has been in development for over a year-and-a-half. We believe that we have something unique here that no other newsreader offers,” says Breslin. “Our stream editor allows users to mix their own streams of content that then glide across the screen. So you could compose a sports stream from feeds about GAA, Formula 1 and rugby, and have that gliding alongside a stream made up of computer games, technology and movie content. But you can then share your stream mixes with friends, a bit like the way people shared mix tapes of their favourite songs in the 80’s.”

One of the differences between StreamGlider and other newsreaders is that brands can private label the StreamGlider system and distribute it themselves with their own content to their audiences.

StreamGlider is available in two versions, Lite and Pro, and can be downloaded from the App Store on the iPad, or via www.streamglider.com/download

You can watch this screencast about StreamGlider on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odHAXmLS5DI

Year in Review: Our Top Five Most Popular Articles

It is not our usual way at Technology Voice to predict winners and losers in the uses and exploitation of technology and innovation. We see our task as being to find out what is new, relevant and interesting and tell others about it. About 40% of ‘these others’ are readers who come from the business world matched by a roughly equal amount that come from the world of academia, particularly in the areas of reserach. Many of our readers are from Ireland but a significant amount also come from overseas.

However, from our position as observers on the sidelines we can’t help but notice trends and patterns in both the marketplace and research laboratories. These trends are reflected almost isomorphically in the relative popularity of our articles.

As is customary at the end of the year we shall round up with a list of our top five most popular articles. It can be seen that their relevance to our readers acts as commentary and reflection on activities in the tech world in the last year.

It is clear from this selection that networking technologies of all sorts are of predominant interest.

The most useful metric for determining relevance that we have at our disposal is the popularity of a given article or blog measured in direct hits on the relevant article’s page. But we should offer caution here that we know, but cannot quantify to any degree of accuracy, that our articles circulate out across the digital landscape in ways that cannot be easily counted or assessed. So, the following list is based on a first order of popularity that we were able to quantify ourselves.

(Finding a way to accurately track the dissemination of URLs would bring the inventor untold wealth from the world at large and eternal gratitude from me.)



Tapmap: Navigating Offline Store Inventory With Online Technology This is the business article that drew the most interest this year. So, congratulations to Philip McNamara.

TapMap matches a request for a product through a mobile device with the products availability from a given supplier. This saves the customer from having to traipse around from place to place or even site to site.

TapMap also helps smaller retailers fight agains the default shopping mode that a lot us have which is the tendency to just go to a larger merchandiser on the assumption that ‘they will just have it.’



Starfish: A User-Controlled Network

With the massive coverage of Wikileaks and the activities of Anonymous this was an article that seemed to touch the current zeitgeist. The opportunity to move to a decentralized method of distributing information using currently available technologies offers us an opportunity to slip the shackles of Big Brother and the Telcos.

Of course, our communications technology, both hardware and software, comes from somewhere and that somewhere has to remunerated in some way but the flatter more egalitarian distribution system put forward here has a lot to offer in terms of efficiency and robustness.

It seems almost inevitable that this sort of networking will be implemented in some fashion.



Data Mining: Using Predictive Analysis And Social Network Analysis

Although Herculean, the movement and storage of petaflops of data across the planet and occasionally beyond has been managed with relatively little obtrusiveness to our daily lives. The internet could double in size over the very short term and those of us who weren’t equipment manufacturers would barely notice.

But the value of data lies in its relevance and usefulness to a given purpose. It has to have meaning to someone or something. Discerning the meaning of data and its significance to other bits of data is the work of Eric Robson who leads the Data Mining and Social Networks Analysis Group at the TSSG which is based at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Without doubt the TSSG is one of Ireland’s gems and with its focus on the commercialization of research we will be hearing much more from and about them over the coming years.

Data mining is relevant in every area of life where it is important to match seeming disparately bits of information not only to tell us what is going on but provide us with predictive ability as to what may happen over some future period of time. Applications range across the whole supply management and distribution of services and to areas such as law enforcement.



Bio-Inspired: Electronic Chips Emulate Workings Of Neuron

Our second most popular story of 2011 was from, in all places, just across the NUI Galway campus from our office.

Dr. Fearghal Morgan, Dr. Jim Harkin and Dr. Liam McDaid have used the natural architecture of the brain to create an electronic system that emulates some of the workings of a neuron.

I am particularly pleased about this one as I have had a long-standing interest in the work of Jeff Hawkins, formerly of Palm and Handspring, and his development of software architecture and processes that parallel the working of the brain at Numenta.

While ‘brain as a computer’ is a limited metaphor there is no question that there are processes in the various parts of the cortex that lend themselves very well to emulation on a micro-processor.

Our brains are the most complex data handlers that we know of but the ability to utilise technology that has been worked on for hundreds of millions of years offers us a wonderful opportunity to find new, better and more efficient ways of doing things.



Crowdgather

By far our most popular post ever and is indicative of the difference between the hyped web and the ‘real web.’

Facebook deserves to be written about both as a cultural phenomena and as a constantly evolving technology that through trial and error – whatever happend to Deals and email? But it also provides us with a great opportunity to discover how users participate and communicate with each other by digital means. (Let’s leave the walled garden argument to one side for the moment. With nearly 800 million users it is moot now as to whether it is a barrier in the cultural sense rather than the technical sense.)

However, the web is expanding faster than Facebook is. As a thought experiment if you were to somehow be able to stand at the edge of the expanding web, due to the different speeds of growth, if you were to look at the space that Facebook occupies it would seem to be getting smaller in a relative way.

Stumbleupon has amazing growth and activity figures which parallel Facebook’s but have not incurred the massive press coverage that Facebook has. Most people, even those not on the web, could tell you that Mark Zuckerberg is the main man at Facebook. Try a pop-quiz with friends and relatives over the holidays and see how many could name his counterpart at Stumbleupon.

But this focus on Facebook is distorted and is not an accurate reflection of what is really happening in the field of online communications.

Bigger than these two in terms of activity and sharing is the world of online forums. Our interview with Sanjay Sabnani illustrates some key points and here are a number of quotes from the article:

“What matters on a forum is the worth of your intellect, the merit of your thoughts and your ability to communicate them.”

“Forums are designed for a multiplicity of people to communicate with a multiplicity of people and they are done in an organized fashion with a taxonomy that makes sense.”

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet.”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our regular contributors; Conor Harrington, Lisa Jackson, Ina O’ Murchu and John Conroy for the help they have given us this year.

We would also like to thank Tom McEnery, Rich Moran and Aoife Connelly for their valuable contributions which we are very grateful to have received.

Abair Leat! Irish Speakers have their say on Social Media

When I first heard of Abair Leat! a few weeks back, my initial reaction was a cynical one. “Not another attempt to create a niche Facebook,” I thought. However, after only a few moments speaking with Mícheál Ó Foighil, the man behind the Irish-language social network, it becomes immediately evident that this is no Zuckerberg wannabe, but a forward-thinking educator using the medium of our time to share his passion for his native tongue.

The Irish summer college, Coláiste Lurgan, in Indreabhán, Conamara, where Mícheál is principal, had initially developed Abair Leat with Block 5 Design as an interactive learning platform for students but, according to Mícheál they, “Always wanted to take it a step further, from learning Gaeilge, to using Gaeilge.”

This led to them approaching digital agency Fantasy Interactive, whose CEO, David Martin, is “one of our own,” and agreed to help.

The people at F.I. have, acknowledges Mícheál, “been more than generous” with their time and expertise in integrating the language-specific features required for an exclusively ‘as Gaeilge’ social network. The result is Abair Leat “Beo”, or ‘live’ while the educational platform remains as Abair Leat ‘Oide.’

The site is currently in beta at the moment, and is “ninety-one, ninety-two percent there.” Rather than simply encouraging the use of Irish, it incorporates software which monitors the use of Irish on the site, and only permits posts which are seventy percent or more Irish-language in their content.

“It’s the first [social network] of its type that deals exclusively with the requirements of a minority language, so it is quite exciting.”

The thirty percent leeway allows for the inclusion of some English, or any other language, and also for the use of different regional dialects. “Most native speakers would spell things in an unconventional manner,” says Mícheál.

This will also allow for the “text-speak” and abbreviations which have appeared in the English language in recent years. While some traditionalists have lamented this development in other languages, Mícheál would welcome such modifications. “It would be quite cool really.”

It seems the aim of Abair Leat is not to impose rigid grammatical standards, but to encourage and facilitate the use of Irish, with inbuilt spell-check and translate functions, and plans for a thesaurus function to follow.

“It’s really for people who would like to learn the language for its own sake more than to prepare for exams, but I suppose the more you normalise the social aspect of it, the more it’s going to benefit your academic endeavours as well.”

With a full launch planned for February 2012, Mícheál hopes that Abair Leat! will have 50,000 users by the end of its first year. He predicts a few sleepless nights between now and then, but you get the impression that he’s loving every minute of it.