Sociometrics Solutions — Data for a Productive and Creative Workplace

It is an odd thing that such dynamic creatures such as ourselves can live in such rigid worlds. We have the energy to create great things and there seems no end to the variety and means of our self-expression but so often we confine our way of being in the world to systemised routines, familiar modes of operation and the conformity borne of the unthinking use of traditional methods.

The creation of highly predictable processes, largely comprised by the reduction of statistical variability to as near zero as possible, has created the modern world we see around us. But while this is the optimal way to work with repetitive production methods, it may not be the optimal way for humans to work.

This is particularly true in the work place where our human tendency to socialize and seek novelty is constrained by the structure created by protocol and habit, as well as the physical architecture of the office and factory. It can seem that the more closely procedures are followed the less opportunity there is for inspiration and innovation.

But as constraining to human nature as modern work environments are, it is clear that they are effective and there is an understandable tendency not to fix what isn’t broke. Even with the knowledge that the present situation is less than ideal and could be better. So, the question is how to improve the modern workplace without introducing counterproductive disruption?

For that we need data. But for data to be truly useful it has to be gathered effectively and efficiently with the end in mind. Then it has to be collated and aggregated in such a way as to produce meaningful results that can be applied to the real world.

Sociometrics Solutionsis a company started off by a group of PhD alumni from MIT Media Lab that addresses this very challenge. According to Taemi Kim, Chief Scientist of Sociometric Solutions and the person who directs the Social Analytics Division, there was a vision present amongst them of how, “Technology could be applied to the way people behaved…especially in the workplace.”

Data is gathered by having participants wear a badge that is very much like the normal corporate security passes with which they would most likely already be familiar. This environmental sensing badge contains four different receptors.

Microphone: Taemie says, “We do a lot of speech processing noting how fast you are talking, how loud they are talking, what’s your pitch. We get a lot of sense of how you’re speaking and that gives us a lot of information about the content of the conversation or the meeting as such.”

Accelerometer: This is to detect movement around the workplace but more usefully, it can be seen how these movements affect other people’s activities. “At a fine grain level we can look at how closely people are mimicking each other. If I do something does it affect you?”

Infra Red Sensor: This provides information on who the badge wearer is facing and provides a gauge of the quality of the communications that are had throughout the day.

Proximity Sensor: Bluetooth is used to detect who else is around within a 10 metre range.

Privacy issues were another reason for creating a wearable device. Taemie says, “We wanted something personal so that the people who wear it can control when to turn it on, when to turn it off. And they know for sure what it is collecting. We never provide individual data to managers.” Also, the audio is recorded is processed and primarily analyzed for tone, tenor and manner of communication rather than for anything that is specifically said in a given conversation or interchange. Users also have the option to delete the data if they want.

After the data is extrapolated into useful information, “We find that there are certain concepts that are elementary building blocks — influence, consistency, activity level and mimicry.”

These building blocks can be applied in a variety of ways to different situations. Taemie says that, “For a pharmaceutical company, a certain combination of these might be very useful and meaningful.” But for a different industry it might be very different how these building blocks are chosen and are applied. “So we test this out with our clients and try to understand what are the important things and what are the significant things in their situation.”

Reassuringly, it seems that it is not required to dig to deeply into people’s psyches to obtain useful results. Examining social signals and interactions in a given behavioural environment can be every bit as fruitful if not more so.

“There is a whole area of research on what people are feeling internally. Trying to detect emotion. Trying to detect what their psychological states are. Our approach is a little bit different. We are trying to be more like: What are the external behaviours that we observe? For Person A expressing their anger might be different from Person B on how they express anger.”

Aside from being minimally invasive the data gathering and processing time is relatively short. “Usually what we recommend is a month of collecting data. The first week people are just getting used to wearing the badges and after the first week people go back to their normal behaviour.”

One of the benefits of having worked with many clients in a variety of industries has been the growing understanding of what a workplace that is conducive to creativity and productivity looks like.

“We now have a sense of what kind of communication or what kind of pattern seems to induce creativity. What kind of settings tend to induce more of a mix or more of an inter-team interaction. Based on that we have been giving advice to a lot of people who design offices, who design commercial real estate. Based on the knowledge we have gathered we have been able to give advice on how to design better work stations.”

By being able to measure before and after, Taemi and her colleagues are able to give objective data on how things have changed.

“So, if you reorganised your floor-plan we can tell you how you, or how your team, interacted before and how they are interacting now. By adding a coffee machine or changing the location of a printer changes how people interact or who they meet throughout the day.“

The overwhelming advantage of this approach lies in the use of data to determine and model real world behaviours to garner information that can be used to establish practical next steps for businesses and institutions to develop an environment that is not only productive and efficient but, seemingly, also caters to what makes human beings creative, inspiring and innovative.

Taemie Kim is Chief Scientist of Sociometric Solutions and directs the
Social Analytics Division. Taemie is an expert on data science and
collaboration technology with experience in the mobile and consulting
industry. She received her Ph.D. from the MIT Media Lab.

Episode #5: Does It Rain on Mars?

Hosts: John Breslin, Marie Boran, Fergal Gallagher and Tom Murphy.

A one-way ticket to Mars, sociometrics, how tech is changing the way we buy books, Jeff Bezos buys the Post, growing the European app economy, hyperloop with Dr Eoghan Clifford, Chromecast, UPC Horizon, Google Fiber, Rubbee, intercepting Gmail, and more.

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

For additional show notes, visit the full page for this episode.

Technology Voice is brought to you by StreamGlider, the real-time streaming newsreader for iPad. And by Seevl, a music discovery service for YouTube and Deezer.

Running time: 1:00:00

00:30 Introduction by John Breslin @johnbreslin
–:– Marie Boran @pixievondust
–:– Fergal Gallagher
–:– Tom Murphy @poweredbygenius
01:15 Ads
–:– StreamGlider http://streamglider.com/
–:– Seevl http://seevl.net/
01:45 Topical news
–:– A one-way ticket to Mars
05:39 Sociometrics
11:50 How technology is changing the way we buy books
18:00 Jeff Bezos buys the Post
24:42 Growing the EU app economy http://eurapp.eu/
–:– Martin Hahn, European Commission
–:– David Card, VP of Research, GigaOM
–:– Mark Mulligan, Midia Consulting
–:– Kevin Mobbs, InnoCentive
–:– Kumardev Chatterjee, President and Founder, EYIF
32:53 Cool tech
–:– Hyperloop discussion with Dr Eoghan Clifford http://www.irishtimes.com/business/sectors/technology/hyperloop-pod-speeds-into-the-popular-mind-1.1493262
37:25 Chromecast
43:24 UPC Horizon
46:45 Google Fiber
53:20 Rubbee http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1732543648/rubbee-the-electric-drive-for-bicycles
54:49 Intercepting your Gmail messages
57:50 Upcoming events
–:– Hacks and Hackers Dublin http://hujo.deri.ie/
–:– Eurapp innovation challenges http://eurapp.eu/competitions/

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

It’s Not the Spying, It’s the Lying

Does anyone deny that the inherent vulnerability of all forms of digital communication to archiving and data mining is of significant value to governments seeking to secure themselves against their enemies?

Given that, why shouldn’t governments exploit this vulnerability to identify, track down and defeat those enemies?

Of course, in a democracy, “those enemies” should never include the people.

To the contrary, in American democracy government is meant always to be, as President Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address: “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The horror of the Obama Administration’ communications penetrations is that everything about them, how they are used, against whom, upon what predicates, under whose authority, under whose supervision, even — but for Edward Snowden’s leaks to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, — their very existence, has been hidden from the American people.

Snowden’s whistle-blowing (any anyone who disputes that label should ask himself, “Why did he tell The Guardian and not the Russians or the Chinese?”) has ignited a great political war, the most important of our generation.  It is a war about power, power which, under strict rule of law, should reside, not in the White House or the Congress, but with the people.

As usual, the essence of power is knowledge, in democratic terms, the knowledge the people need to grant informed consent to their representatives in the legislature and their administrators in the executive branch.

The Obama Administration is just the latest, although perhaps the greatest White House offender against our Constitutional concept of democratic governance.  It has lied by omission and commission.  It has consistently denied the American people knowledge of the realities of government surveillance.  It has thus pre-empted the consent of the governed, the thing which gives them legal and moral legitimacy.  It has abused the people directly and individually, and it has abused their elected representatives.

In the name of national security, the Obama Administration has treated the American people as its enemy.

It certainly treated the documentary-making journalist Laura Poitras like an enemy, assaulting her with not just digital technology, but in-her-face gumshoe intimidation.  And this went on for months, long before Snowden reached out to her with his explosive information about “our KGB.”

The details of the security apparat’s harassment of Poitras are spelled out in Peter Maass’ terrific
NY Times story
of the Snowden to Poitras to Greenwald to us revelations of snoops gone wild.

It’s not just the White House that hides the facts, and not just ordinary people who are misled.

As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman pointed out, the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, with the acquiescence of its members, hid from all the other members of the House, the facts of the NSA’s phone data collection in the days before the crucial 2011 vote to approve radically expanded domestic as well as international spying under the so-called Patriot Act.

This is how establishment Democrats and Republicans worked together specifically to disenfranchise the millions of voters who installed the Tea Party caucus in the House.  As Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) told Ackerman, ‘We’re trying to get information so we can do our jobs as congressmen. If we’re not able to get that information, it’s inappropriate.”  

Or worse than inappropriate, “this is tantamount to subversion of the democratic process,” Bea Edwards, the executive director of the Government Accountability Project told Ackerman.

Now, thanks to Ackerman and Maass, Poitras and Greenwald, and of course thanks to Edward Snowden, the American people know better, and are now knowledge-armed to fight this vital war against anti-democratic abuse of governmental power.

It’s going to be a long war, and hard for the people to win.  For every story in the Guardian or the Times, there are the sorry performances at President Obama’s last news conference, at which he revealed his “trust me, even if I can’t trust the facts to you” formula for surveillance “reform.”  Gregory Ferenstein of TechCrunch told the story of how the White House press corps whiffed almost entirely, and thereby left their customers in the dark.

The spying continues, as it partly should, but so does the journalistic process of revealing lies and discovering secrets, of passing along information, of refining info into knowledge, and hopefully, at some point, knowledge into effective power.  People power, what democracy is supposed to be all about.

As I said at the top, spying is not the problem, it’s the lack of control over the spying, the lack of honesty with the people so they might exercise, or democratically delegate control over the ever-more-effective, ever-more-intrusive revolution in digital surveillance.

It’s the lying, stupid.  

Why Did Jeff Bezos Buy the Washington Post?

Last week many mourned an end of an era, as the Graham family sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon.com, for somewhere in the region of $250 million. For the mourners it signalled the end of a golden age in American journalism, during which the paper’s stories managed to bring down a sitting president (the Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of the Watergate scandal is forever immortalised in the movie “All the President’s Men”).

The New York Times is now the last high profile US newspaper still being run by a family trust as the Post joins the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and the LA Times in being bought out by wealthy benefactors. But is this necessarily bad news for the industry? The Grahams only sold the Post because they didn’t believe they could turn the fortunes of the paper around. The current business model is completely unsustainable. The Post has made increasing losses over the past few years (44 per cent drop in revenue over the past six years) which led Donald Graham to admit that he couldn’t bring the paper any further.

Graham claimed last week that he only sold the Post to Bezos because he trusts Bezos “to do the right thing: invest for the long term in real journalism.” I have no reason to doubt Graham’s motives for selling but there’s no denying Bezos has paid above market value for the Washington Post. The $250 million price tag is 17 times adjusted profit, or about four times what major metro dailies usually fetch – John W. Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club, just paid $70 million for the Boston Globe.

$250 million may not be very much money to Jeff Bezos, but he didn’t get rich by giving money away, so why did he pay so much for a failing business? Since the details of the sale were announced last week, many theories have abounded from it being a rich man’s toy, to the new mouthpiece for Bezos’ presidential campaign or a channel to promote Amazon’s interests, but in truth nobody really knows.

Bezos says he will no exert any editorial control over his new purchase and he has proved in the past that he is a long term investor. In a brief letter to employees, Bezos said: “The “values of the Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners.” Perhaps his most telling comment came in a piece he wrote in the Washington Post. “There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy,” he wrote. “We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”

This experimentation could be the key. Under Bezos, the Post can afford to try new things and if they fail then the owner’s pockets are deep enough to support this. Bezos is unlikely to be concerned with short term losses and surely if anyone is going to save the newspaper industry then the man who has redefined retail over the past decade or so would be a good candidate for the job. Over the past decade he has redefined how books are distributed so who’s to say he can’t do the same for news.

Bezos has expertise in digital content, paywalls, delivery, mobile, local, and advertising — all the problems and conundrums that face the Washington Post, as well as every other legacy print newspaper. He’ll innovate and hopefully help the paper find its way to solvency.

Nobody knows Bezos’ plans for the venerable newspaper but his track record would suggest that he has a plan and he’s not just buying a toy to play with.

Our Top 10 List of Eye-Catching European App Companies

Based on LivingTheBrand.com‘s data, there are roughly 30,000,000 apps downloaded on a daily basis worldwide. Among the popular apps, western-European gaming applications have taken many of the top spots in the app market. It is with this inspiration that the European Commission decided to launch the Eurapp project. The project aims to help entrepreneurs gain a foothold in maintaining and expanding their businesses in the app development industry, not just on the continent, but globally as well. In this article, we have listed the top companies in the European region that caught our eye. Their impressive popularity, success and list of well-known clients are some of the reasons why they made it onto our top 10 roundup.

  1. Rovio in Espoo, Finland. This is company responsible for bringing us the game Angry Birds in 2009. They made it onto our list because their popular app is so cool and informative, that teachers have even used it in their math classes so that students can easily learn concepts like trajectory, angles and acceleration. This game was also the inspiration for sixth-grade representatives of the Bronx Academy of Promise who developed the Greek myth-based “Quest Math” (one of the winners in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge).
    Reason for Recommendation: Their success is worth recognising from building a simple game application to its use as an educational one. There seems to be nothing that can stop Rovio from throwing in fresh ideas every day.

  2. Supercell Oy in Helsinki, Finland is a newcomer in the field. However, Hay Day and Clash of Clans are already making waves in the App Store. According to Forbes’ report, they make $2.4 million every day from their 8.5 million players worldwide. Hay Day can now be played on Facebook, which means even more money for the Supercell Oy company.
    Reason for Recommendation: They made it to our list because firstly, they’ve developed some cool games and secondly, for a young company, their daily income is quite astonishing.

  3. Ukraine-based Mobiwolf has received many accolades for their entry in the international developers contest Apps4All in Moscow. Their winning app was the “Whiz Kid” application designed for interactive fun between parent and child.
    Reason for Recommendation: Not all companies are recognised by a prestigious organisation. So for winning an international developers award, they made it onto our top 10 list.

  4. Gameloft in Paris, France was founded in 1999. Their performance on the app market is really a source of inspiration for young entrepreneurs. With only 14 years under their belt, the company has produced many noteworthy games including a version of Disney’s Monsters University, Iron Man 3 and GT Racing 2.
    Reason for Recommendation: There are few app developer companies that are as popular as Gameloft. We can expect many more infamous titles such as Minion Rush to come from this French company.

  5. For the audiophiles, Image Line from Belgium is a familiar name. They are the people behind FL Studio Mobile, which is a tool to create superb beats using keyboards and other instruments. Their success is really worth recognising. For those planning to venture into app development, we heard they’re also expanding.
    Reason for Recommendation: They made sweet music with their success. Image Line is a blossoming company that requires more idealistic developers to join their team. Maybe you will fit in?

  6. From Ghent, Belgium, TapCrowd is known for their popular clients. They have created apps for businesses, brands, as well as event organisers and their mobile communication needs. Their portfolio is composed of the Cactus Festival event app, automotive apps for brands like BMW, a retail app for Perrier called the Perrier Fresh Club, as well as other government and non-profit organisation apps like Mobile Monday for Mobile Monday Brussels.
    Reason for Recommendation: TapCrowd has rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous brands on the market. Success has been part of their daily game and with such a high standard for excellence, we dub thee a part of our top 10 list.

  7. MADbus, RAEplus and BCNbus app developer MAD Ideas based in Madrid, Spain has created different transport-related mobile software. Practical apps like the aforementioned placed MAD Ideas on our radar because of the help they extend to commuters and the transport sector.
    Reason for Recommendation: Ever wonder how transportation has been made easier with mobile applications? Thank MAD Ideas for their bright ideas of coming up with a solution to our transportation needs.

  8. Thumb-saver SwiftKey is headquartered in Southwark, Central London. A post on BriefMobile said this Android keyboard app is used mostly in the United States. The functionality of this alternative QWERTY keyboard made its way to our top 10 because it helps reduce typo errors, especially for those who have big fingertips!
    Reason for Recommendation: Successful applications solve a market’s demand and need. SwiftKey has brought an end to our mobile typing horror days over with their predictive text system. Less typo errors for all of us.

  9. In 2006, Golden Gekko was founded in London, United Kingdom. Their remarkable resume of mobile apps for names like Universal Pictures with their “Despicable Me: Zap a Minion App” gives it a place on our list.
    Reason for Recommendation: If you can lock-in big brands such as Universal Pictures, then you definitely have a place in our hearts.

  10. Another top UK company in the list is Portable Pixels based in London. What gained them a spot on our list is their impressive roster of clients including Alfa Romeo, Audi and HTC, amongst others.
    Reason for Recommendation: It’s the battle of the clients for developers and it seems Portable Pixels have scored some of the biggest on the market.

These companies have contributed more than just apps to entertain people. They have also laid a new pathway for entrepreneurs to explore. If you’re an app developer looking for the best company to join, then we recommend you try out with the above businesses. If there are other companies you think should be included in our list, feel free to leave us a comment. We’ll consider it on our next roundup.

Seeking Innovative Ideas to Create More Opportunities in the EU App Economy


Solver competition to tackle key issues around funding and scaling-up in the EU app economy and dealing with EU-wide market conditions (flickr/liquidx)

Recent studies have claimed that over half a million jobs have been created in the US due to the burgeoning ecosystem around mobile and social apps. But there is also anecdotal evidence that the corresponding app economy in Europe seems to be lagging behind significantly. The EC is funding a project named Eurapp to model and profile jobs generated by the European app economy, as well as highlighting potential opportunities for future success and growth. As part of this, Eurapp is now inviting solvers globally to generate ideas to solve major challenges facing the European app economy, with a total prize fund of €9000 and an additional €15000 to facilitate travel of the top ten solvers to a Eurapp event in Berlin this November.

Eurapp is launching two innovation challenges in parallel during August 2013 to crowdsource solutions to challenges for the app economy in Europe. During the five weeks for each challenge, solvers will have an opportunity to provide ideas on how to overcome various barriers and to trigger the growth of the app economy in Europe. The two challenges will focus on funding and scaling-up app startups, and on improving the capabilities of app startups to deal with EU-wide market conditions. The first challenge launches on 9 August and the second challenge will kick off a week later.

Martin Hahn from DG CONNECT said: “The EC has clearly identified that there is a need for action in the field of web entrepreneurship, and for now, we don’t have sufficient evidential data about what is going on in this market. The market is very new, rapid and diverse, so it is necessary that we have clear objectives and clear data.”

“Around about a fifth of the top-grossing apps in iOS and Android come from European publishers, so the majority are from the US,” according to Mark Mulligan, an analyst with GigaOM Research, a partner in the Eurapp project. “So many developers have a really small reach, and there is almost so much choice that it is becoming increasingly hard for consumers to connect with European developers’ apps.”

NUI Galway’s Dr John Breslin, leader of the Eurapp project, said: “In the interviews carried out so far and in our stakeholders workshop, one key challenge that was iterated again and again was funding. The consensus was that it can be more difficult to get the substantial funding required to sustain or grow an internationally-operating app business in Europe, when compared with our counterparts in the US. It may be the less risk-averse mindset in the US, or a lack of know-how in EU companies about how to promote and position one’s app in the market, or other factors.


Interviews with the European Commission, GigaOM Research and InnoCentive about the Eurapp innovation challenges

“Similarly, issues around regulatory and country-specific barriers – e.g. privacy laws, data access, and working in fragmented national markets – have been cited as problems by stakeholders, and gathered into a challenge we have called ‘EU-wide market conditions’. We hope the solvers can come up with some innovative ideas of how to address these challenges”, continued Dr Breslin. “We have chosen InnoCentive as the platform to crowdsource these solutions due to their large community of solvers and previous challenges around the web and data”.

Kevin Mobbs from InnoCentive, the crowdsourcing platform being used for the challenges, said: “We like to think of our approach as challenge-driven innovation, or open innovation. I think ‘open’ is the key word. Anyone can come along and answer questions: end users, the platform providers, the professional developers and the hobbyists.”

The solvers who put forth the top ten innovative solutions will be invited to a Eurapp event in Berlin in mid-November, where they will present their ideas for discussion with 80 stakeholders from the European app economy. For further details or to join the challenges visit eurapp.eu.