GoPrezzo’s Startup Survival Guide to the Dublin Web Summit


Image: PRslides.com. One of the hundreds of tech startups pitching at the Dublin Web Summit 2013

Out of the 10,000 attendees at this year’s Web Summit over 2,000 are listed as the founder, CEO or employee of a technology startup. Most of these companies are manning stands in the main hall and hundreds are pitching at one of four dedicated stages running from morning until evening. With a sea of entrepreneurs vying for attention, how can a startup make it worth their while?

It’s exhausting but worth it, says GoPrezzo founder and CEO Aaron Taylor. GoPrezzo is a casual mobile gaming tournament platform with a base in both Belfast and New York. This is their first time at the Web Summit and it’s been a busy few days.

“The most important thing is that you’re meeting like-minded individuals,” says Taylor. In an environment like this, the key thing is to meet as many people as possible. “Meetings can lead to great opportunities. Get yourself out there and make people aware of who you are.”

One wonders if startups have come here hoping for instant success or if they’re envisioning the longer play. “A lot of people are probably here looking for the big sell or the big round of investment but the likelihood of that is obviously slim,” says Taylor.

He sees the Web Summit as a fact-finding mission in part; as long as startups are organised and have meetings set up in advance it’s useful. “Come here with an open mind, soak up the atmosphere and just wait and see what comes out of it.”

The tech startup game is a crowded market so differentiation is important, says Taylor. While GoPrezzo is in the mobile gaming space, the service it offers is just different enough to stand out; it’s a tournament platform that connects brands to gamers.

As a relatively young startup, GoPrezzo’s Web Summit highlight has been meeting other similar startups: “It’s been good to meet others who have passed the fund-raising stage and are now trying to scale their business and find distribution partners.”

Despite all the buzz and activity at the Web Summit, it all boils down to three basic questions for every startup here, says Taylor: how do we get funding, who’s actively funding and how do I make my startup look as attractive as possible to the funders.

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.

Eurapp: A Study Underway to Measure the Impact of the App Economy

With almost a million apps now available worldwide, a new project has begun to measure the app economy in Europe and help guide stakeholders towards success. The ‘Eurapp’ project was launched by the European Commission, and is being run by the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway in conjunction with leading tech industry analyst firm GigaOM Research. The project kicks off with a working workshop in Brussels on 14 June, “Shape the Future App Economy of Europe”, featuring leaders from the app industry.

Eurapp is part of the Startup Europe initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, which aims to help tech entrepreneurs start, maintain and grow their businesses in Europe. The project will carry out interviews and surveys with various players in the app economy to determine its characteristics. It will also use a series of workshops and innovation challenges to crowdsource proposals for how growth can be stimulated in the future.

The workshop will bring together stakeholders and experts to brainstorm how the ecosystem of developers, platform providers, regulators and other participants in the European app economy can grow in the future. It will also consider how companies can succeed in the app “aftermarket’.

“Recent studies on the app economy in the US estimate that it was responsible for the creation of nearly 500,000 jobs. In Europe, we don’t have the same kind of data just yet, but the region is a strong player in the global app economy, with companies like Rovio, SoundCloud and SwiftKey leading the way,” said NUI Galway’s Dr John Breslin, who is leading the Eurapp project at DERI.

The Shape the Future workshop in June will have invited speakers from the apps industry, including Samsung, SwiftKey and Betapond. The format will be a series of lightning talks featuring experts in the space, followed by mapping sessions to probe attendees’ collective thinking and examine some of the issues to be tackled in growing the app economy in Europe.

“Some of the key talking points will include identifying the bottlenecks which are experienced by app developers – environmental, technical, or financial – so that the EU could develop policies to overcome or mitigate them. We also want to map out the best measures of success for an app company, such that they can be guided towards successful business outcomes.”

After the workshop, solutions to address bottlenecks and to suggest potential success strategies will be crowdsourced in two innovation challenges via the Innocentive platform.

Attendees at the event include: Peter Elger, CTO of Betapond; Kumardev Chatterjee, founder of the European Young Innovators Forum; David Card, Vice President of GigaOM Research; Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs EMEA at Innocentive; and Eurapp project lead John Breslin, who is also co-founder of boards.ie and the app company StreamGlider.

According to Breslin, “The aim of this effort is to not just review the size of the app economy in Europe, but also to guide future app companies to success as per the aims of the Digital Agenda for Europe’s Startup Europe initiative.”

The workshop will be held in BU33, Auderghem in Brussels on 14th June 2013. There are very limited places available for the workshop, but you can apply to attend at http://eurapp.eu/

Would You Pay an Ongoing ‘Entertainment’ Tax to use Your Mobile Device?

An Irish Government minister has recently announced that every home in the country will have to pay a TV license fee regardless of whether they have a TV or not. He is quoted as saying;

“In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.”

There are two implied premises to his argument: The first is, that people are watching more programming on their mobile devices or computers to the extent that the relationship between broadcaster and viewer has changed in some fundamental way.

Second, that watching television is not only beneficial in itself but is of benefit to society as a whole.

Dealing with the second point first. For the most part Television isn’t even a benefit to the immediate viewer let alone the public at large.

In particular, no child should be left unattended watching television. Once they are away from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and highly specific programmes of a kind especially produced to aid child development, television is nothing but an outright danger. Indiscriminate viewing does them nothing but harm.

Television is also a major health hazard to those old enough to know where the off button is. It is a clearly identifiable contributor to the obesity epidemic which in turn is the leading cause of heart failure and diabetes in the western world. Never mind a whole host of other nasty side effects.

The far more interesting assertion to discuss is the notion that content is being viewed on mobile devices and computers rather than a conventional TV set.

The evidence from the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 white paper would suggest that the Minister’s assertions may have some basis. (The executive summary is well-worth reading.)

Relevant to this discussion are two findings from the Cisco research:

1.) Smartphones represented only 18 percent of total global handsets in use in 2012, but represented 92 percent of total global handset traffic. In 2012, the typical smartphone generated 50 times more mobile data traffic (342 MB per month) than the typical basic-feature cell phone (which generated only 6.8 MB per month of mobile data traffic).

2.) Two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017. Mobile video will increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017, accounting for over 66 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.

<img src="https://technologyvoice.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/mobile-usage.png" align="left" vspace="10" hspace="10"The most recent figures from TV Licensing in the UK show that 39% of homes watched TV content on a smartphone while another 14% used a tablet.

However, while there is a certain handiness in being able to view content on mobiles, computers, etc. it is hard to believe that it as remotely a satisfactory an experience as watching content on a proper screen accompanied by proper sound.

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or that you will.

Not to be a complete killjoy, I do think the world would be a sorrier place without programmes such as; The Wire, Breaking Bad, BSG, Firefly and so on. The rest, however, is junk.

So why this move? As is usual, one has to follow the money. Television is a ubiquitous service and most households in Ireland have a viewing set for which they already pay a TV license. So the additional money raised from properties that don’t have televisions will be trivial in comparison to the amount that is already being raised.

Technically, it is not a poll tax but it is in effect a tax on just living in a house which all of us need to do. It contains within it the pernicious idea that we now have to pay a tax to the government for no other reason then that we happen to exist. This has nothing to do with income or property rights.

More pernicious still for those of us who actually enjoy and benefit from technology is the identification (if only by approximation at this point) of everyday gadgetry such as mobile phones, tablets and personal computers as being liable for periodic taxation as opposed to taxes paid at the point of sale.

The dubious and unsupported argument for such an imposition is based on the idea that these devices can carry so-called entertainment from publicly funded broadcasters and are the practical objects for conveying the wider benefit that the minister refers to. (It is equally likely that he could have been referring to some sort of magical thinking that conveyed this benefit – hard to know with politicians.)

However, with the sort of figures being talked about in the Cisco report it is going to be hard for any government to turn away from such a potentially abundant source of income. It is just a matter of them figuring out precisely how.

Can Your Mobile Phone Help You Get Fit?


Ted Vickey (on right) with John Breslin and researchers from NUI Galway.

Can your mobile phone help you get fit? A researcher at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) and former White House fitness expert will pose this question at the 5th Annual Medicine 2.0 Congress which opens in Harvard Medical School, Boston, tomorrow.

Ted Vickey is a PhD researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) and the Discipline of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway. His company FitWell won the White House Athletic Center contract in 1995. At Medicine 2.0, Ted’s presentation to delegates will show that “understanding one’s social network may be one key to better health”.

“Rather than surfing in the ocean, we are surfing the web. Rather than an outdoor game of tennis under the sun, we are inside our homes playing online virtual tennis on our Wii. People drive their cars to the gym and then take the escalator to the front door rather than walking and taking the stairs,” explains Vickey. “But what if technology could be the solution to our problem? What if our mobile phones could track our every step, provide healthy tips during the day, even persuade or motivate us when we need it most? This dream is now a reality all across the globe and it is called Mobile Health.”

There are an estimated 13,000 health-related apps in the iTunes app store: everything from monitoring blood pressure to tweeting body weight to tracking sleep cycles. A subset of these are fitness-related apps (MapMyFitness, Nike+, etc.) for monitoring and reporting on a person’s exercise characteristics. One way to share some of this exercise activity data is through microblogging services such as Twitter.

Various studies have indicated that “lack of motivation” is a key factor in why a person does not exercise. With social sharing of exercise activities using mobile fitness apps becoming more common, understanding and leveraging one’s social network may be one key to better health through exercise. However, the effectiveness of online sharing via social networks of one’s physical activity has yet to be fully understood. More research and best practices are therefore needed to show how advanced social web technologies may effectively address the lack of motivation excuse, and thus increase exercise adherence/general health.

As part of his PhD research, Vickey and his colleagues at NUI Galway have collected over 4.5 million tweets sent via mobile fitness applications from around the world. These were then categorised into different classifications, in an attempt to understand the correlations between online social networking and effective exercise motivation and adherence. For each person who shared a workout online, the researchers looked at their social network structure and their online influence, while determining a fitness classification, exercise intensity, exercise duration and motivation for that person.

“Mobile fitness apps not only allow for the sharing of information between user and healthcare providers, but also with a user’s friends. These self-monitoring units will help change the face of healthcare around the globe”, said Vickey.

Vickey’s paper, ‘Estimating the Long Term Effectiveness of Mobile Fitness Apps and Exercise Motivation’, has been shortlisted for the iMedicalApps Medicine 2.0 mHealth Research Award. His research at NUI Galway is funded by the Irish Research Council in conjunction with the American Council on Exercise (ACE Fitness), the largest non-profit fitness certification organisation in the world with over 50,000 professionals, and by Science Foundation Ireland. Vickey also serves on the Board of Directors of ACE Fitness.

Established in 2003 by NUI Galway and Science Foundation Ireland, DERI has now grown to become the world’s largest semantic web research institute. It engages with companies, from startups through to multinationals, to develop new web solutions. The Discipline of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway also offers a degree programme in Sports and Exercise Engineering, focusing on the convergence between electronic systems and exercise.

From Arcades to Apps: The History of Computer Games is Repeating Itself


Image adapted from Wikipedia.

Seamus Blackley, co-creator of the Xbox, has a theory. The new arcade is the tablet, the mobile, the app-powered touchscreen device of today. What we are seeing today in games apps has all happened before: we just need to look back to the arcade games boom of the early 1980s, in particular their adoption by a widespread demographic. But we also have to learn from the arcade games crash and make sure that the same doesn’t happen to the games apps ecosystem.

Blackley was the keynote speaker at the International Games Innovation Conference, run by IEEE’s Consumer Electronics Society, where he spoke about the birth of arcades and what it means for those now in the games industry. His new company Innovative Leisure has recruited a venerable team of arcade game veterans to build arcade-like games for touchscreen devices. He is also known as a transforming force in the games industry, revolutionising how many play games today when his team at Microsoft articulated a vision for a games system powered by a personal computer – the Xbox.

A self-confessed games nut who got into the games business because he loved video games more than anything else, Blackley felt so compelled to make video games that he was inexorably drawn in. As he says himself, at one point he woke up wondering what he was doing in the industry, what it meant, how could he make a success for himself there and how would he explain this new industry to his parents or to friends at parties (although this became easier as games became more mainstream). In the 80s, you got a blank stare for being a games designer, and many were unaware of the computer technology powering these entertainment devices. There was a curious and refreshing cultural disembodiment as people responded to games like an entertainment medium and not a technology. “Non-computer” people had permission to play games as they became a widespread cultural trend: they weren’t a geeky activity as computer culture was only just starting.

Before the birth of the computerised arcade games era, the earliest electromechanical arcade games like pinball were a wonder to behold. In fact, they provided the context for computerised arcades because without them the audience wouldn’t have appreciated the leap in gaming when the first video arcades were released. Computer Space, shown on the right hand side, was the first commercial video game to be sold in 1971, based on the Spacewar! PDP (mainframe) game from the 60s and displayed on a TV vacuum tube. Similar to Asteroids, it featured an animated starfield with flying saucers shooting at the player’s rocket ship. What was novel was that the player’s bullets could track a ship and could also be controlled by the arcade buttons. But many still wondered what this thing was and why no TV shows were being displayed on this tube-like screen in a big box. Computer Space was eventually a failure because it was too much and too complex: people just couldn’t figure out what was going on with it. Pong came soon afterwards, in turn inspired by the earlier game “Tennis for Two”, and through its simplicity it achieved more widespread success.

There was a great sense of entrepreneurial spirit in bringing these arcade games to the masses, but there was a terrible problem unanticipated by the producers: copying. They hadn’t trademarked their games (why should they?), and Pong became so successful that it was copied multiple times. So, what to do next? The arcade game producers hired teams to come up with ideas and play around with them, going beyond the different manifestations of Pong to produce driving games, flying games, etc. Games started appearing all over the place, and the instantaneous growth in the scope and range of arcade games in late 70s and early 80s was completely extraordinary (sound familiar?).

At its heart, the arcade game industry was essentially a refrigerator manufacturing business, but the market was huge. Asteroids alone was a $4 billion business, producing over 80 thousand cabinets in the 1980s. The Battlezone Asteroids-type arcade game was a technical design disaster by today’s standards: high voltages inside the case, fluorescent lighting, plastic shrouds, and featuring a 400-pound cabinet in case people would try to steal it (and people did, stealing pickups that were used for transporting the games and leaving the pickups behind). The arcades were extremely profitable: these cabinets would make $400 a week for an Asteroids-type machine.

To illustrate the growth of this industry, in 1978 the US domestic games business was $50 million. Three years later, there were $900 million in sales of cabinets and $5 billion was spent on these arcades in quarters. In 1982, this figure rose to $8 billion in quarters ($19 billion in 2012 money). Atari at that time was the fastest growing company in the history of the human race (Blackley referred to articles in Business Week from that time and how you could almost replace the name Atari with Facebook to produce modern articles word-for-word). To give context, in 1982 the music industry was worth $4 billion and the movie industry was $3 billion. Pac-Man itself eventually became an industry on the scale of the entire movie business at the time.

Nowadays, people often compare these primitive games with fully-featured gaming environments like Modern Warfare, but forget that today’s games are being launched into a very mature and games-aware audience. Also, the games of the 80s weren’t just being played by a niche of gamers, but rather by a universal demographic of people. For those amazed by the wide-ranging demographics of those now playing games on mobiles and tablets, this really is not new news. There are other smaller similarities: the achievement badges with high-quality designs and artwork from arcade games like Asteroids or Gravitar are very similar to those given out on XBLA, PSN or iOS games today. The games trade shows are just as silly as they were back in the 80s when they were invented. And there’s even some cosplay!

What we are facing now is not a brand new situation that no one has ever seen before: there has been no sudden horrible change in the demographics of the world that is causing consumers to behave in some insane way as they take up gaming. We again have a culture that gives permission to play games just like it was 1977. You can be enthusiastic, you have permission to be a gamer, and companies are again talking to a whole audience of people that they haven’t been able to talk to in nearly 20 years. It is interesting to see the corner being turned again, but there is a pattern in human endeavour that has dogged us since we started keeping records.

A new idea is introduced and sees initial success. People get accustomed to it, but then we lose the context for that idea, it declines, and it takes a long time to build back to where you were (there are numerous examples of this from TV or movies to computers). Games also had that effect in the 80s: players with high scores became virtual heroes appearing on talk shows, and there were TV shows consistently at the top of the ratings with kids just playing video games and audiences cheering them on. People got sick of it, and games went away to become more of a hobby interest, with the marketing of games being targeted towards this hobby audience.

Now, with games re-emerging from their hobby audience demographic back into the mainstream, the danger returns. The need for novelty in games begets the demand for a range of games catering to different tastes, which in turns leads to exploitation and over production, with the inevitable crash. Unfortunately, the video games business did an excellent job of crashing itself in 80s. As an example, apparently there were more cartridges produced for the game ET: The Extra Terrestrial than there were Atari 2600s to play them on (many are apparently buried under concrete somewhere in New Mexico). Everyone knew it was crazy, but games were so extremely popular that they felt that they had to do something like that. Blackley refers to this Atari internal memo from Innovative Leisure colleague Rich Adam where he bemoans the impact of what he terms “License Fever” on the quality of video games. If you start to feel that you need to exploit a business because of its scale, you are beginning to disrespect the customer and will crash yourself.

The way that people purchase and play games has changed radically recently. Much has been made in a variety of media articles about the death of consoles, about social media taking over world or the death of social media, and so on. Facebook has changed way that we think about talking to customers online; iOS has changed the way we think about marketplaces and digital downloads; Amazon has changed the way we think about hosting our content and data. The world is changing, but we can still try to engender that feeling of specialness in getting a game for the first time. This is when a teenager drives all the way to a store to get a new game and spends $16 on a plastic disc because they love the medium so much. Blackley advised us not to squander that, to remember how much we love games and to recall that moment when you first saw a game that was really special, that changed your life. He wants game producers to focus their efforts on recreating that and passing that moment on to the audience. A love of gameplay, a spirit of innovation: these are the things that makes the video games industry a really good business.

Just as I was writing this article, Seamus Blackley coincidentally wandered by and we had an interesting chat about the the origins of his name (while working at Looking Glass Studios as Jonathan Blackley, his colleagues gave him a new name – Seamus – that he adopted informally at first and later formally through a name change). He asked me to mention in the article that he was a mean bastard, but actually he’s an inspiring guy. Thanks Seamus!

Citizen Sensors: Individuals’ Mobile Updates Contribute to a Bigger Picture


Citizen sensing applications range from public health to disaster relief.

In 1999, before the advent of Foursquare, mobile Twitter clients or sensor-enabled phones, a somewhat prescient Neil Gross in Bloomberg Business Week said: “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” A new area of research called “citizen sensing” has emerged since then that aims to derive collective knowledge from the actions and reactions of individuals armed with internet-enabled mobile devices.

In the past ten years, we have seen the growth of online social networks, but there has been a parallel surge in sensor networks, many of which are also connected to the Internet. These usually consist of multiple static or inert sensors that capture certain readings from their environment whenever they are programmed to do so. Also, many people are now carrying some form of sensor-laden device – a mobile phone, a tablet, a fitness device – from which sensor readings can also be retrieved. This is sometimes called ‘human-in-the-loop sensing’, but sensors are also being carried by cars, animals and other moving entities.

There are various advantages for human-in-the-loop sensing. For collecting data in large urban areas – for example, for environmental or traffic monitoring purposes – it can be both expensive and time consuming to build large networks of sensors in these areas. Having people walking around with sensor-enabled devices makes sense due to the high population densities in urban areas and the willingness of people to contribute sensor data if it will have an eventual positive impact on their lives.

Five years ago, a team in UCLA wrote a research paper on ‘participatory sensing’, which uses, “mobile devices to form interactive, participatory sensor networks that enable public and professional users to gather, analyze and share local knowledge.” Applications were described in the areas of public health, urban planning and even creative expression. In 2007, Michael Goodchild described citizens as sensors in the field of volunteered geography, when he talked about, “[humans] equipped with some working subset of the five senses and with the intelligence to compile and interpret what they sense, and each free to rove the surface of the planet.”

More recently, a professor in Ohio’s Wright State University, Amit Sheth, outlined the notion of ‘citizen sensing’ whereby people are, “Acting as sensors and sharing their observations and views using mobile devices and Web 2.0 services.” A citizen sensor network is “an interconnected network of people who actively observe, report, collect, analyze, and disseminate information via text, audio or video messages.” In particular, Sheth presented work in which semantic annotations were applied to Twitter microblog posts from ‘citizen sensors’ in order to provide situational awareness, e.g. in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

If interpreted correctly, the data that is available from citizen sensor networks can have a wide variety of applications. Some of these include: earthquake sensing (people interested in acting as citizen seismologists can apply to Stanford for a tiny seismic sensor for their computer); disaster relief (there are various platforms available from Ushahidi for disaster response); traffic monitoring (Dr. Liam Kilmartin at NUI Galway is leading a project that uses mobile apps to monitor and reduce traffic congestion in Galway); and environmental data analysis (UC Berkeley and Intel provided personal air quality sensors to community members in California as part of their Common Sense project).

In a previous article (“What If Your Car Could Tweet?”), we briefly talked about how sensor readings could be attached to microblog posts through the Twitter Annotations extension. Twitter Annotations will allow arbitrary metadata to be attached to any tweet. There is an overall limit of 512 bytes for this metadata ‘payload’, and each metadata item is expressed in the form of “type”:{“attribute”:”value”}, e.g. “movie”:{“title”:”Planet of the Apes”}. Inspired by Twitter Annotations, work is ongoing with David Crowley at DERI, NUI Galway to attach mobile sensor data to Social Web content, to develop mobile sensor-specific extensions to the SIOC de-facto standard developed in DERI, and to build Android apps that use this data model. The next step is then to provide novel methods for interpreting and visualising the data for different domains.

At the moment, you can attach geolocation information to a tweet, and every tweet is timestamped, but what if you could append temperatures, air pressures or other contextual information to a tweet? When combined with the actual texts of the tweets themselves, this combination of human-contributed and machine-contributed data could potentially be very useful.