Yay! My Twitter account is like a megaphone… Argh. So is everyone else’s :-(

Bernardo Huberman heads up the Social Computing Lab at Hewlett-Packard. The emphasis of his work, according to the man himself, is to understand things by answering important questions. One of the main things he has been gaining an understanding of over the past three to four years is the “economics of attention”. How to best get other people’s attention in a world of information overload raises many important questions, as you can well imagine. So important that, even though we covered it once, you probably missed it, and we will try for your attention again. Hopefully the catchy headline helped…

Huberman spoke this week at the “Innovation at the Verge: Computational Models of Physical/Virtual Space Interaction” workshop at the Lorentz Center in the Netherlands. His research focuses on big data, but the term itself encompasses many different types of data: the petabytes of data being generated at CERN every second; the vast amounts of imagery from the Hubble telescope; human genomics and its associated data; socially-shared content and social networks; and more. Huberman’s source of big data is from social media, and it differs from other big data sources because of its strong relationship to other data (people, companies, etc.).

There are a lot of companies learning immense amounts of information about us on a daily, hourly, and even per minute basis. Android Jelly Bean devices pre-loaded with Google Now can tell things about where you are, when you should go home, how long it will take, etc. They anticipate what your behaviour is going to be, because, quite simply, analysing big data reveals patterns. The part of this that most people are unaware of is the privacy concerns associated with this data. Most people do not know how to isolate what they are doing from the view of others. What we read or what we do or what we discuss online is being stored for a long time and may be preserved indefinitely.

Even our video players can be used to find patterns in our activities, more so when your video provider is also your phone and internet provider. One company recently talked about observing the behaviours of hundreds of millions of people through their video watching activities. Observing traces of what people are watching and when, they can figure out when you went to the bathroom. A common pattern: someone stopped their video player, they did not make a phone call, they did not text, and they did not go on the Web, for an interruption of about seven to eight minutes. (Such patterns can also be corroborated with surveys.)

Before you freak out, it’s not all bad. Patterns obtained by analysing the big data from social media also allows us to find out a lot about our social behaviour, and can be used for our benefit. Before the advent of modern social media and Web 2.0, we had forums, the original social media. Before that again, it was very hard for us to respond to information on the Web. Now we can blog, tweet, comment, and everybody has started participating on the Web in a very (inter)active way. And the resulting social big data has become very important: 340 million tweets per day; a billion Facebook users; 900 million users of YouTube, with two thirds of all web traffic being video.

But the Web has also speeded up the metabolism of thought. Warren Buffett recently said he was still puzzled by how we can get so much information from the Web for free. Previously, finding out information on how to invest in a company was one of the most valuable things in the world. Now you can do it in five minutes for free, and faster than you could have before. Actions and reactions via social media are extremely fast, leading to an accelerated mode of thinking. The interconnected social media world reacts instantaneously, and everybody has access to it.

But with all of this freely-available information, something important happens. Information begins to lose its value, because things that are plentiful are cheap, and those that are scarce are expensive. Booking holidays in travel agencies or finding the best flight from A to B are now freely available: the information is all there, why pay for it when you are being flooded with it? Now what is valuable are the things that are scarce. In this case, it is our capacity to attend: we can try to attend to something when there are 150 other things looking for our attention at the same time, but we will most likely fail. This is why you get spam – notice me, download me, watch me, rent me – and all at a phenomenal rate and volume.

How we attend to things will usually determine what it is that we are going to do. Wherever attention flows, particular issues surface, those ideas are discussed, and money flows. Traditionally, the editor of a newspaper decided what went on page 1, 2, 3, and so on. On the basis of that decision, you became aware of issues: but they were certain issues that he or she had chosen for you. In social media, you are being flooded with all kinds of stuff. In this case, it is whatever floats to the top that shifts / gathers attention and causes other issues to recede from view.

It is Huberman’s view that almost anything except attention can be manufactured as a commodity. The economics of attention is essentially what is driving the society in which we all exist today. We all have loads of items vying for our attention and things at the end of lists that just don’t get done. It’s true even for (or especially for) the President of the United States: you can imagine that someone is presenting an agenda to that president saying that these are the things he should pay attention to.

Today, in principle, you can write the tweet of your life and everyone will quote you. As Huberman puts it: “The paradox of the Web. You now have a megaphone. Just like everyone else.” We are essentially drowning in immense competition, and it’s like an arms race to get attention. One of Huberman’s important questions is can you derive a strategy that would put you in the headlines every day? It is difficult to do it more than once or twice, but Lady Gaga was given as an example of managing to create attention events that can somehow capture the imagination of huge amounts of people. As Huberman says, “Style is now more important than substance: how you package information is key. If everyone was able to find the Higgs-Boson particle, then someone has to package it better, to draw the attention of others to their information.”

Propagating recommendations in social networks can help with the marketing of a book, but successfully converting those propagated recommendations into sales is the motherlode. Again, it’s related to attention, specifically getting the attention of user hubs who can lead to huge conversions. Finding those hubs would be hugely lucrative for a publisher. Similarly, someone in the physics community can tell all their friends when they publish a paper, but it would be really great if some prominent scientist noticed it and told everyone else. One’s professional standing relies on us getting the attention of people higher up in the hierarchy.

So how is this attention allocated? If you were given a billion items on the Web, how can you figure out which ones will get attention? Huberman says it’s straightforward. Combining how many people downloaded a movie or accessed a page on the Web over a given time period with the decay rate for accesses of that item will yield information on how much attention something is getting and will get in the future.

Original images from Wikimedia Commons [1, 2].

Firstly, attention for items on the Web is not distributed at random but rather has a pattern. It’s distributed in what’s called a log-normal fashion. Huberman claims that this is a universal law – from web content voting to video viewing – and if you can measure the number of accesses any site gets, it will be distributed like this. When they analysed the frequency of clicks on Digg for example, a typical item received 60-70 “diggs” (recommendations), and a small number of items received thousands of diggs. It’s the same distribution with YouTube, and of course everyone wants to be at the good end of the scale (the items with the largest numbers of clicks).

Secondly, attention decays. We all get bored and attention starts to drift. When we see the rate at which people download a video (e.g. Gangnam Style), the rate at which it is downloaded slows down because nearly everyone (who wants to) has seen the video already. Decay is also universal for social sharing sites, and it’s a bit like a half-life value in radioactivity. The measurement of a few points allows you to predict how long activity will last for. The “half-life” in Digg is about 69 minutes.

Combining this half-life with the log-normal distribution allows Huberman and his team to do something very interesting: make predictions. He can take any YouTube video, use the initial rates at which it was downloaded and the typical log-normal distribution for the site, and then predict clicks in the future (e.g. a year from now). Similar work was carried out using box office reviews from Twitter. Based on how much attention was being generated from people talking about a movie before it was released allowed Huberman to predict how well it was going to do on box office opening.

A related question Huberman wanted to tackle was how random are social interactions on the Web? Looking at data from Epinions and Whrrl, Huberman used entropy measures from information theory to show that it was highly predictable for a person to talk to another given person if they had communicated previously. Life in virtual spaces has a predictability, and the high likelihood that you will communicate with a person again resembles what is observed in physical spaces (an experiment by Hitachi using sensors found a similar predictability). In organisations talking to each other off the Web (e.g. by email), communications aren’t limited to the formal organisational hierarchies, but exist as informal interactions across hierarchical groups similar to communities of practice.

Attention creates a feedback loop. When observing why people upload videos to YouTube, Huberman et al. did a large study on those heavy producers of content uploading thousands of videos per year. They saw a strong correlation between downloads of videos and productivity amongst producers all aiming to get millions of video downloads. Was it attention that drove this? It seems so: the more attention they got, the more videos they produced, and less attention resulted in fewer videos.

So, pay attention and know that someone else will be very happy to pay for it.

Innovation at the Verge is a workshop organised by Galal Galal-Edeen, Johan Hoorn, Paola Monachesi and Gert de Roo. The Lorentz Center is an international center that coordinates and hosts workshops in the sciences, based on the philosophy that science thrives on interaction between creative researchers.

Speeksy: Social Discovery Through Facebook

Social discovery is an online space that has been emerging over the last couple of years. It is a throwback to some of the original ideas that the first social networks were built around. Friendster was about meeting new people through mutual friendships. Likewise, MySpace was a very social way of discovering new music.

In contrast, Facebook, with its multiple levels of privacy settings is very much about keeping in touch with people you already know. Social discovery is, in essence, a network that enables you to meet people.

For the moment, with Facebook’s star still in the ascendency, launching a competing social network is a task set aside for the brave and the foolhardy. A smarter way to address the need people have for meeting new people would be to integrate a social discovery application with the Facebook platform.

This is what Barry Cassidy has done with his company Speeksy — a social discovery platform that uses Facebook information to create connections through shared interests and mutual friends.

Barry says that, “We looked at how people met new people in the real world. What was it that makes a connection between you and someone new that you are meeting? Essentially, mutual friends is a big thing and so is common interests.

“The Facebook API is pretty easy to engage with but for us it was more about thinking through the features that we could use. What features in the Facebook Open Graph could we leverage to make it easier for people to meet new people?”

Speeksy has just one single sign-on process. Information needed to create an account is pulled from Facebook’s Open Graph. A match is then made between you and people who share your interests and are connected to you through mutual friendships.

Connections are created based on things that you have already indicated that you liked on Facebook such as movies, TV shows, bands, books and so forth. Barry says, “It is a seamless entry from Facebook into our product where you don’t have to create a profile of fill in a questionnaire or personality test.

“We are trying to create a social experience where you can meet new people in a very natural way. We are creating an enjoyable social experience that people will want to go to and engage with regardless of whether they meet new people or not.

“When you log into our site we create connections through interests. You can find interests that you already have or you can explore new interests such as running and other things you might do in the real world. You can create music playlists and see what other types of music people are listening to. You can also browse people and see their interest graphs”

Just like in the real world the online world has its share of unsavoury characters. However, Barry has a strategy for dealing with egregious behaviour: “We filter people out on the reputation [they acquire] based on their behaviour and engagement with other people.”

Meeting new people (providing they are not nut-jobs) is a necessary component for maintaining our health as we move through life. We are social animals who revel in novelty. New social encounters can sometimes challenge some of our fixed, but maybe false, notions. They can provide new sources of stimulation and through shared interests we can feel a sense of belonging that is essential to our tribal natures.

Most of social media is human nature taking advantage of the technologies of the World Wide Web to broaden one’s horizon from the village and the local area to the global. Social discovery and applications like Speeksy offer us a new opportunities for fresh engagement based on shared interests.

Having common ground to begin with makes it all the easier for new relationships to flourish.

Via.Me: Multiple Media Services in One Platform

At the beginning of last year we ran a number of articles highlighting some of the fundamental challenges that face a tech startup and some ideas on how to approach and handle them. Two of these posts were based on interviews with Fergus Hurley, a Galway native who now resides in California. Fergus discussed the importance of design in the Role of Design in Getting a Product to Market and project construction in Developers and Product Development.

Fergus is now Director of Products at Radium One and on March 1st, this year, he and his team launched Via.Me. For the last couple of weeks at TechVo we have been exploring the Via.Me platform as it offers us the potential to use upload different types of media just using one service.

We have experimented with services such as Audioboo, Instagram and SoundCloud and they are all great. (I, for one, will continue using them as I have already established my own little mini-communities on each of them.)

It is almost a paradox in the world of social media that as the services and choices become bigger and more numerous, activities and communities become more fragmented and more narrowly defined.

However, for a multi-media platform such as ours, and for other users who would like to post pictures, video or sound according to which medium best suits what is intended to be communicated, keeping track of what has been published where has become a job in itself.

Via.Me is a number of different services in one platform. According to Fergus, it is a way to, “Upload all your different types of media. Photos, videos, voice-notes and text/stories in one application across all the social networks. In this first incarnation it supports all those media types and it has the web presence and mobile presence that very few other applications have.”

Fergus says that there are four different target audiences:

“One, is consumers. People who are coming to the site and they can use it themselves and start interacting with it.

“Two, is celebrities. That means celebrities posting their content and building up their audiences on our platform and allowing people to subscribe to celebrities while getting real-time updates from those celebrities.

“Three, is publishers. Brotips, Notebook of Love and Men’s Humor are posting content all over the networks and then people are coming back to view that content on Via.Me. They create one central hub for all their content and they have the view count showing so they can get a metric.

“Four, is the brands. In general, as a company, Radium One’s biggest focus is on brands. We work with a lot of the top 100 advertisers in the US helping them with their online advertising.”

Although Via.Me is comprehensive in its capabilities. Fergus believes that it is important to, “Keep things really, really simple. You have to keep the application as intuitive and as simple as possible. If you build something that is really difficult and is hard to explain to other people then it’s going to be really hard to get adoption. We definitely kept the product a simple, sharable concept with instant gratification.

“It’s about getting the users onboard. We have already had over a quarter of a million downloads of the application and we’ve had millions of people come to the website. It is about growing the audience from there.

“A lot of people are using it as a publishing platform. They see the links and comeback and comment on our platform and then they start engaging with our platform on a daily basis.”

twitris: Social Media Analysis with Semantic Web Technology

The Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University is host to one of the largest Semantic Web working groups in the United States. Its most important task, according to Amit Sheth, LexisNexis Ohio Eminent Scholar and the Center’s Founder and Director, “Is doing world-class research and creating world-class innovators.

“The simplest way to describe what we do, is that we use semantics to empower a variety of things in Web 3.0: dealing with social data, traditional data, the web of things and cloud computing. For example, working on the interoperability of applications over the cloud using semantics — plus other interdisciplinary projects.”

One of Amit’s current projects is twitris, an online platform that analyses social media activity from a variety of perspectives.

Amit says that with twitris we obtain a, “360 degree analysis of all the social signals that we can find. There are multiple ways that people offer their views, opinions, data using social media.

“Micro-blogs are short, informal. You can’t easily apply traditional processing techniques because they don’t have good structure. There is a lot of slang, there are a lot of new terms that come up, there is a lot of dynamism; changes in terms of topics. There are multiple perspectives.

“Analyzing this kind of text is challenging.”

The idea for twitris came to him as he watched a tragic series of events unfold on the social media channels. “On the 26th November, 2008 I was glued to the computer watching what was unfolding in Mumbai, India. That was the day when the terrorists struck. I noticed that the terrorists went from one place to another place, and then another place — there was a spatio-temporal thematic unfolding of the event.”

“On social media we were getting news ahead of the traditional media. We were getting stuff at a different level of granularity, at a different speed. We thought we should find a way to analyze the whole thing. Because you not only have just tweets, you have links to flickr and links to articles. People put up map information and diagrams. All these things act as pointers towards knowledge about a new event.

“So we started building this system for spatio-temporal thematic analysis. Later on, we stumbled across another dimension of analysis that we called people content network analysis. In many cases, with people such as journalists, politicians and students you can tell where they are coming from by their profile.”

At present the three subject areas that twitris is covering in extensive detail are Occupy Wall Street, the US elections and corruption in India. Twitris is able to provide answers to such questions as when you network, who is talking to who? How does information spread? How do you acquire audience? And how do you become an influencer on a particular topic?

According to Amit, “There is some very interesting analysis about Occupy Wall Street. What can we learn from each of these snapshots on different days on how the movement is changing? Is it involving more people? Are they able to convince the people? What is the role of academics? What say politicians? What say journalists? What’s happening in the particular discussion?”

It is possible to detect rumours, counter rumours or even start rumours in order to shape opinion. Amit says, “I can study the reactions to my actions and calibrate my activities.”

This ability to not only analyze data but to also interact with it makes the capabilities of twitris very attractive to many potential users. Political organizations can keep better track of public sentiment, brand managers will be able to see how their products are performing. Anyone who needs to about or makes a living from predicting, measuring or just observing social trends could find this technology very useful.

The technology is currently available for commercialization and, “It is all semantic web technology. All the tweets get tagged and there massive amount of triples generated. There is a very healthy combination of text analysis and semantic web analysis that is going on behind the scenes. There is heavy use of RDF.

“Even though it all looks social media in the underlying semantic web technology plays a very critical role.”

Dealing with Information Overload

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

“…and he now took the fancy that he would like to have the telelectroscope and divert his mind with it. He had his wish. The connection was made with the international telephone-station, and day by day, and night by night, he called up one corner of the globe after another, and looked upon its life, and studied its strange sights, and spoke with its people, and realized that by grace of this marvelous instrument he was almost as free as the birds of the air, although a prisoner under lock and bars. He seldom spoke to me, and I never interrupted him when he was absorbed in his amusement. I sat in his parlor and read and smoked, and the nights were very quiet and reposefully sociable, and I found them pleasant. Now and then I would hear him say, “Give me Yedo”; next, “Give me Hong Kong”; next, “Give me Melbourne.” And I smoked on, and read in comfort, while he wandered about the remote underworld, where the sun was shining in the sky, and the people were at their daily work. Sometimes the talk that came from those far regions through the microphone attachment interested me, and I listened.”

The above text is an extract from a somewhat prescient article entitled “From the “London Times” of 1904” which was written by Mark Twain and published in 1898. In this story, Twain predicted a system that was eerily similar to the Internet and to the networking and chat sites we use today. The device used to connect with others was called a telectroscope, and it was enabled through an international telephone connection.

Some 66 years later on an edition of the BBC’s “Horizon” programme, Arthur C. Clarke spoke of virtual conferencing and communications systems, removing the need for physical presence to do one’s job:

“I am thinking of the incredible breakthrough which has been made possible by developments in communications, particularly the transistor and – above all – the communication satellite. These things will make possible a world in which we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be; where we can contact our friends everywhere on earth even if we do not know their actual physical location. It will be possible, in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London. In fact, if it proved worthwhile, almost any executive skill, any administrative skill, even many physical skills could be made independent of distance. I am perfectly serious when I suggest that one day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating in patients in New Zealand. When that time comes, the whole world would have shrunk to a point and the traditional role of a city as the meeting place for man would have ceased to make any sense. In fact, men will no longer commute, they will communicate. They won’t have to travel distance any more; they’d only travel for pleasure.”

Now, of course, we have become familiar with just how real these predictions of online networking and communications have become. With 800 million active users at present, Facebook is on track to have 1 billion users during 2012 and over 250 million photos are currently uploaded to its service daily. On YouTube, 4 billion videos are watched every 24 hours. Twitter has 1 billion tweets posted each week and around half a million Twitter accounts are being created every day.

And, there are lots of other social media sites, blogs, microblogs, wikis, social bookmarking, curated news, etc. We are floating in a social ocean, but there are so many islands to visit, and too much stuff is being created to keep up with it all (see also “What is the Social Semantic Web and Why Do We Need It?“.)

Information overload is a pressing problem, and many of the pilot projects from the European Union’s FET (Future and Emerging Tech) programme, due to pitch for full status in mid-2012, are tackling this issue, both directly and indirectly:

IT Future of Medicine aims to bring together the masses of medical information created around a patient, by using analytical and clinical data from the patient to create an individualised model.

FuturICT is creating an observatory for studying the way our living planet works in a social dimension.

The Human Brain Project is building computer models to simulate the actual workings of the brain.

RoboCom aims to improve our quality of life, creating robots with perceptual and emotive capability: we can only hope that they will also help with incoming flows of information, telling us what is important to know right now.

Guardian Angels are zero-power sensing devices to assist us with health care, the environment, and more: again, bringing context to the information that is all around us.

There’s also a Graphene-related pilot. Here, at Technology Voice, we have previously covered Graphene, a material that will make computing devices run faster, replacing silicon in circuits to not only improve performance (by processing information more quickly) but create new applications.

Digital technologies have been woven throughout our daily lives to a level such that they have become another essential service, just like electricity or clean water. It costs to have these services, and wastage of resources is also important for the digital universe, but there is another aspect to keep in mind: the sheer volume of digital data being created every day.

More than a year ago, IDC published their “Digital Universe Study” in which they looked at the amount of digital information created and replicated in the world. They published some interesting observations:

  • 75% of our digital world is a copy (25% is unique).
  • In 2010, the amount of digital data was 1.2 zettabytes (1.2 trillion gigabytes). This is equivalent to a stack of DVDs stretching to the moon and back.
  • In 2020, this amount is predicted to grow to 35 zettabytes (35 trillion gigabytes). That’s a stack of DVDs reaching halfway to Mars!

Thankfully, those brainy researcher-types are also creating systems to help us to find the info we need: building new search and discovery tools; devising ways to add structure to unstructured content (see our article on Linked Data and the Semantic Web), including images, audio and video content; making new information management tools that incorporate notions of prioritisation, classification and automatic deletion; and implementing better methods for trust, privacy and accountability.

A new science – termed “data science” – has emerged, and companies like Facebook now have large teams of data scientists working on their “big data”. Finding meaning somewhere in these masses of data involves research into big data analytics, data mining, leveraging networked knowledge, the visualisation of results, etc.

Computing power is also worth thinking about in relation to this growing amount of data: both memory storage and processing speeds.

Current consumer-oriented memory storage drives can hold about 2 to 3 terabytes of data. Every 15 years, storage capacity roughly increases by a factor of 1,000. In a 2010 Scientific American piece, Paul Reber, a researcher at Northwestern University in the USA, estimated the storage of a human brain to be around 2,500 terabytes (other estimates vary this up or down by a factor of 1,000). If that is true, we would therefore require about a thousand consumer 2.5 terabyte drives to store the contents of a brain. Therefore it is not unreasonable to imagine we could store a brain’s capacity on a single “memory” drive by 2025 (if we could actually copy the data off of a brain somehow.)

In terms of processing capabilities, estimates for the brain are that it can carry out anywhere from 1016 flops (floating point operations per second, a measure of computer microprocessor speeds) to 1019 flops. Current supercomputers operate at about 2.5 x 1015 flops. Using Moore’s Law (which states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years), the theory is that we could have supercomputers capable of human brain speeds by 2025 (1019 flops.) By extending this to 2040, this grows to 5 x 1022 flops (equivalent to the aggregate processing speed of 5,000 brains.)

However, there are opposing trains of thought in relation to computers being able to emulate a human brain. Many say that the brain is much more than just storage and processing: consciousness is required. The Guardian recently reviewed a book that talks about exactly this issue: Bryan Appleyard’s “The Brain is Wider than the Sky.”

The futurist and founder of Singularity University, Ray Kurzweil, has said that in 2040, by his estimation, we will be able to upload the human brain to a computer, capturing “a person’s entire personality, memory, skills and history.” (See the full Kurzweil interview from 2009 in the Independent.) Why should this be a one-way transfer? Arthur C. Clarke also predicted in that same Horizon programme that we could upload to our brains, learning new skills and languages while we rest.

Whatever your opinion on the above, let us look forward to a future where the overload of information on today’s web will feel like a messy second-hand bookshop when compared to the orderly library of our personalised digital universe.

Thanks to Josephine for her help with this article.

A Cut Out And Keep Social Media Plan for a Non-Profit

A daughter of a good friend of mine attends the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) — A public school that has a particularly fine educational track record.

However, due to the difficult financial situation of the State of California funding for some of the school’s programs are either being squeezed or are ceasing. While recognizing the need for cutbacks, concerned parents feel the cutting of the study group programs, in particular, are unfair and could possibly damage the educational prospects of their children.

The parents, working together, made this short campaign video, Help LACES Fight Budget Cuts

Wanting to take further steps to get the message out, especially on social media channels, my friend contacted us at Technology Voice (TechVo) to see if we could help.

We should say at this point that we are not social media experts in any guise nor do we aspire to being so.

However, since we have had a lot of dealings with people, technology and issues involved in the social media field we have become somewhat familiar with the area and its practices.

At TechVo we have conducted social media campaigns on our own account and have also commissioned an in depth social media analysis of our own online profile.

With that in mind we wrote back with a few suggestions to help them get started.

The following is an edited (for clarity and privacy) version of the tip guide that we provided.

This article is aimed at the complete beginner with the idea of getting them up and running as quickly as possible.

Each group or person’s campaign will have its own aims and constraints. Hopefully, by reading the material and implementing what is appropriate to their needs the new user of these tools will be able to configure and shape a useful and effective campaign of their own.

But before we start, let’s just deal with a commonly held misapprehension.

Going Viral

Producing a video to with the specific aim for it to ‘go viral’ is an ill-advised strategy for getting your message out. It is about as useful a plan as buying lottery tickets is for accruing wealth. Very few videos go viral and a major reason is because there are so many of them.

On the YouTube faq page this is their answer to the question, “How many videos are on YouTube?”

48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day.”

In YouTube’s own list of “Most Watched Videos of 2011” the only common factor seems to be randomness and unpredictability — which for our purposes is not very useful.

With years of video footage being uploaded every day it is clearly going to be hard to be stand out in a unique and compelling way.

I say this to just to clear the working space of unhelpful ideas and misguided ambitions.

But what can be done, extremely effectively, is to run a targeted campaign to a clearly defined audience.

You don’t hear so much about this sort of strategy because, as you will see, it needs time, focus and good organizational skills to keep track of all the balls in the air. The ability and willingness to make a consistent effort is an absolute prerequisite.

The Video

Choose the title carefully: A clever title might be cute but a more descriptive one that people can either guess or remember easily, will make the video that much easier to find when people search for it online.

For the school’s funding campaign, we suggested; “Save Math Study Group at LACES” and “LACES Needs Funding for Math Study Group” or that they use some combination along those lines.

(The title the parents committee eventually decided on was: “Help LACES Fight Budget Cuts” which is very workable in this context.)

Video Length: Between one minute and one and a half minutes is ideal. Unless the footage is something very special, two minutes is pretty much the outer limit for holding people’s attention in this format. One exception is an interview where ideas need extra time to be laid out and discussed.

To keep the campaign video short and punchy it is important that the story it tells should just make one major point. Only include other elements if they contribute to reinforcing that point.

If you have more than one major point to get across you can always make another short. punchy video with another undiluted message.

You will then need to open accounts on the following platforms:

You will have to put the video up on to:

Youtube — It is best to do one upload to YouTube rather than posting the video on each individual platform. The YouTube video links and embed codes can be inserted into your social media pages simply by copying and pasting them.

This method gives you a better count on how many views the video had and you only have to make edits or changes in one place.

A website — For the purposes of this article a home site isn’t really necessary but it is usual and something people expect to see. It can be useful to act as a holding place for various materials and a place to put a call to action. The problem is that websites just don’t have anything like the connectedness that the major social network platforms have.

Connecting is what a social media campaign is all about.

OK, Deep breath, here we go.


Since you are going to be setting up YouTube and Google+ accounts later on it is probably best to get a gmail account.

You will have to use your real name or run the risk of Google blocking your account.

The gmail account you provides an easy bridge between your YouTube and Google+ accounts, in addition, of course, to being able to handle email.


Once you have set up the gmail account you will be taken to the gmail homepage.

In the selection bar at the top on the extreme left click on ‘+You.’

That will take you to your Google+ personal set-up page.

Link the video and add your text to this page.

Before you start adding people to your ‘circle’ set up the brand page first.


With the Circles of networks on Google+ it is not obvious until the Circles are populated how they work and much easier for you to simply do rather than me describe.

It is best to just have everything public from the start. You can lash down your privacy controls later once you get the hang of it.

The first key tactic to implement on all the networks is to get the invites out, to get the people in, and get the conversation and exchanges of information going as quickly as possible. In any campaign velocity and momentum are the keys.


In the dropdown menu reached by clicking on ‘More’ in the selection bar click on Youtube.

Link the video and add your text to the description box.

Thumbnails:Go to settings. Once the video has processed you will eventually see in the thumbnails section three images to choose from. Hopefully, YouTube will have grabbed the opening title image but quite often it doesn’t.

YouTube captures thumbnail images from the video to allow a still image to be displayed if the video hasn’t been started. But it doesn’t allow you to do this with any degree of accuracy. What they do is offer you an automated, pre-selected choice of thumbnails.

There is no workaround for this except to delete the video and reload a new version hoping Google will select a more appropriate set of three thumbnails. It’s a pain.

(Unless the thumbnail is completely blurred or totally misrepresentative, it is not something to spend that much time over. They are transient images in people’s attention space and aren’t viewed the same way as the cover of a book or a cinema poster. Both of which are specifically designed to be noticed.)

Underneath the video on you tube you will see a link and a dropdown box called ’embed.’

Copy and paste the links to your Google plus account and your Google brand page.

Pages: Once the brand page have the videos and blurb up (are ‘populated’) then send out invites to as many people as you can think of who would appreciate hearing from you would possibly like to support your cause.

Using a Page is far more preferable than using your personal page. People Liking your Page have no access to your personal updates or your friends details and this helps to maintain your privacy.

With both Facebook Pages a Google+ Pages, the key thing is to keep updating and not to let them languish. That means encouraging the other participants in the campaign to leave comments, updates and click on the likes.

Communication: A good policy is to ban email altogether for those involved. Have all communications come through the social platform. If needed, there are ways to send messages privately.

The amount of activity matters a lot. So the more you can interact with other people on the sites and the more you do to keep the page alive the better.


Despite the order of construction that we have laid out for building your social media campaign using popular platforms there can be no argument, at least for the present, that Facebook should be the hub of all your activities.

It is probably the place where you will get the most activity and spend the most time.

This is my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tom-Murphy/136274716385273?sk=wall

As you can see it takes in feeds from where I am elsewhere on the web. I rarely update it directly. I don’t really need it now as people can either subscribe to my public statuses or view my public timeline. But in the old days it was a way to reduce noise on my personal newsfeed.

A Facebook Page has to belong to someone. And that someone has to have a Facebook account. If you are the lead in the endeavour then you can either create it from your account or delegate the ownership to else. Others can join as administrators once it is setup.

Facebook > Home> (Left hand column, below FAVOURITES and LISTS) PAGES > In the dropdown box that you need to roll the curser over) MORE> (New page) Click on “Create a Page> Click on “Cause or Community”

This is the Facebook page for “Friends of Laces.” Please feel free to give them a like or support them in any other way you can.

Enter text about what you are trying to achieve in the ‘about’ section.
Link the video from YouTube.

The first goal is to get 25 people ‘Liking’ the page.
With 25 ‘Likes’ the page can have its own title which is really important for search. Vital in fact.

NB: Don’t be deterred. Like a lot of computery things it is easier and quicker to do it rather than read about it.

Following these instruction and getting the page up should take about 15 minutes.

There are other settings and so on that can be configured but getting the page up but getting the 25 first subscribers is the immediate goal.

Time for a cup of tea.


Now this one is a grind and to be effective you are going to need the help of other people.

If you don’t have an account then set one up. It is important to fill it in as fully as possible. The search engines will discount accounts with incomplete profile entries.

Once you have your account you will see a search box in the top right with a dropdown box labelled ‘people.’ If you click on that and select ‘groups’ you can then search for groups whose members maybe interested in your cause.

But first create your own group. Select ‘Groups’ which is 4th from left on the same bar as search box. Select ‘create groups’ and your away.

Again, invite as many people as you can to the group and make sure everybody understands to cross post between all three platforms.

Now the hard bit. Using the search find all the other likely groups that would want to know about your cause. Once you have a list of likely candidates assign people in your group to each join one or two of these other groups so they can post updates into that group and if needs be engage in debate.

Don’t Spam

Be human and treat other people like humans. Civil and appropriate conduct is as important online as it is offline. Also, spamming is counter-productive. You want people to join with you so that you might achieve your aims. Alienating them at the very outset isn’t going to help you in any way.

Linkedin doesn’t take too long to set up but finding groups and joining them is time consuming. A get together with laptops for coffee and assigning key groups to particular members of the team might be the best way to share the load.

Warning: If you join all the relevant groups and try to manage them yourself you will not have a life — at all.

Because users interests are so conveniently grouped on Linkedin it is possible (if you behave appropriately) to get some very good responses but because of the time involved in getting to know people and the dynamics of individual groups it is the slowest of all the platforms for upscaling engagement.


The name that goes with @ symbol needs to be short. The word length, although not included in the composition of your own tweet is counted when retweeted.

Make sure there is as much relevant information in the bio as possible.

Twitter is very dynamic and an account for a cause or a campaign has to be actively managed. One very good tool to help with this is Buffer. It allows you to schedule your tweets thus freeing up for other activities.

Scheduling your tweets is key. If we didn’t get our first tweet out for TechVo by 09:30 we missed the morning window for maximum reach in our timezone as people had checked their email and had drunk their coffee by then and were now settled into work.

With just a bit of brainwork and some trial and error you will be able to work out the times that are best to tweet out at depending who you want to reach.

The timing for messages to parents at the school gate may differ from reaching public officials who maybe locked in meetings at the end of the school day.

Tweets should be short and to the point and if possible have a link but always a hashtag.

For any campaign every tweet you send should have a hashtag, ‘#.’ Like the Twitter name it should to be brief. #ntp12 would work for something that we might want to do this year.

What the hashtag does is aggregate the results for a given term. Putting a hashtag in front of a word or combination of words and letters ensures that when people use that hashtag on Twitter they only get the results for updates that include that tag. It reduces ambiguity in results and cleans up the noise somewhat.

Go to the Twitter search engine and enter a common word like sugar and have a look at the results. Then type in #sugar and see the difference.

Although, you have to use an email address to set up Twitter you can use any name that is available for the handle.

Have all friends in your circles and on Facebook follow you.

Setting Twitter up is probably the easiest and quickest of all three.

The Twitter home site is not the greatest to use. Tweetdeck is a very popular Twitter manager. I don’t care for it that much. However, the official Twitter app is particularly good for mobile devices.

These four platforms are your priority and should be up and running before you spend time registering with other services.

Setting them all up should be either a morning’s or afternoon’s work.

The key thing to remember is that online campaigns, like any other campaigns, are not passive activities. While the platforms allow you to reach people in ways not possible before, they are not hands off, automatic processes.

They don’t do your thinking for you, they don’t do your strategizing for you. They don’t work out your tactics for you. They are just tools that need skill and care in implementation much like any other tool.

Basic workflow:

  • Create Google account using gmail
  • Create YouTube account
  • Upload video to YouTube
  • Fill in description
  • Choose Thumbnail from settings
  • Create Google+ account
  • Copy YouTube link into Google+ account plus description
  • Copy YouTube link into Google Page account plus description
  • Invite people to Google Page
  • Create Facebook Page
  • Link in YouTube video plus description
  • Invite people to Facebook Page
  • Create Linkedin account
  • Copy YouTube link into account
  • Create group
  • Copy YouTube link into group
  • Invite people to join
  • Get help finding relevant groups
  • Assign people to post, update and engage in those groups
  • Create Twitter account
  • Craft bio
  • Follow as many relevant people as you can. (Tweet out to your community for suggestions.)

This is neither a definitive approach nor the only approach but simply a way to get people started on a social media campaign. If you think there other, better ways of doing this then let us know.

NewsWhip: A Democratic Way of Tracking News

For Paul Quigley, news has always been his, “first love”. When he left a career as a lawyer in New York, he revisited his days of college journalism and started a satirical news site called NewsWhip.

However, he soon began to look beyond the traditional model of news distribution, and after meeting EasyDeals.ie co-founder Andrew Mullaney, the pair reinvented NewsWhip as a social news aggregator, which tracks the speed and volume at which stories are spread globally through social media, and lets the reader know what stories are piquing people’s interest around the world in real time.

“News was always distributed in a one to many model; one place producing the news and distributing it individually to everyone,” says Paul.

“How we look at it is before newspapers, people just told news to each other. It was kind of social activity rather than a product, and we’re we’re returning to that model again because people are increasingly discovering news socially and sharing that news socially through the web.”

While sites such as Google News do a similar job in aggregating news, what makes NewsWhip different is that it measures the interest in a news story in real-time, continuing to track the speed at which it is being shared on Facebook or Twitter.

“When a story gets published, that’s when we get to work. We detect about 60,000 new stories each day as they’re published and we see how fast they’re spreading at that point,” explains Paul.

“What we do differently to what other people are doing with social data, is we keep checking in again and again, so when a story is first published we check and see how many shares and tweets it gets in the first ten minutes, and then we go back again ten minutes later and check again and again.

“Because we know the difference in between each time that we check, and because we know the difference in time between each time we checked, we’re able to work out a speed as a rate of change.”

Users can also tailor their news experience by selecting news feeds from different countries or different news areas such as tech, politics, or sports.

“The key thing is really about the speed at which things are moving through the social web. That is what we’re trying to capture.”

The most exciting thing about NewsWhip according to Paul (and I’m inclined to agree) is that, “It’s like we’ve got a billion editors, so you get to see what the news would look like if everyone was the editor, so it’s very democratic in that way.”

By way of an illustration, Paul tells me that the fastest spreading international the previous day had been an article from U.S. tech site Slashdot about opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Other news organisations such as News Corp, for instance, have not granted this story such prominence in recent days. A site like NewsWipe tells us what everyone is reading, not what they are being told to read, taking a degree of power from media moguls.

NewsWhip was a participant in the NDRC’s LaunchPad programme last year, and the experience was an extremely positive one for Paul, “I can’t speak highly enough of it.”

This month the he and Andrew have moved into Dogpatch Labs’ European offices in Dublin, a place he likens to “Willy Wonka’s factory.”

“Being in Launchpad was really good for focus and mentoring, and now we’ve moved along, we’re here in a place where there’s a golf-putting green and a pool table and a fridge of beer.

“While we’re generally too busy to enjoy those things, the fact that they’re there makes us really happy.”

The main benefit of both these programmes seems to have been the presence of other startups to bounce ideas off.

“We face common problems as startups, so I’d be a big advocate of the open, shared space, whether it’s LaunchPad or Dogpatch or any of the other accelerator programmes.”

The next move for NewsWipe is to develop its range of products further. Plans are in the pipeline for introducing a service for media organisations that will allow them to track what stories are becoming popular as well as an email alert service for the public which will allow them to keep track of what news story is trending in their chosen topic.