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.

Google

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.

Google+

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.

https://plus.google.com/pages/create

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.

YouTube

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.

Facebook

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.

Linkedin

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.

Twitter

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.

Abair Leat! Irish Speakers have their say on Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Top 10 Irish Twitter Influencers


Centres of gravity in the Irish Twitterverse.

Determining a list of the most influential tweeters can be a thankless task. Influence can mean many things to many people. For some, it’s purely a numbers game; those with the most followers are the most influential. For most however, influence is defined by a range of subjective characteristics so broad and personal that no two lists are the same.

When compiling this list of Irish Twitterati, we looked at several factors; how many followers they had, how many they followed back, how many tweets they had notched up, and whether these tweets were actually interesting and inspiring, or of the Jed-prefixed variety. However, the deciding factor was, as ever in these cases, a subjective choice. So, while many will feel that this list is inherently flawed, we can at least console ourselves in the knowledge that theirs is too.

@glinner: Graham Linehan rose to prominence as the co-writer of seminal Irish sitcom Father Ted. He has also put his name to comedy shows such as Brass Eye and The IT Crowd. It is not unusual for the mind behind so much cult comedy to have the 126,593 followers Linehan has at the time of writing, but his use of Twitter extends beyond the usual celebrity self-indulgence.

Linehan has used his influence on the social network to campaign for a variety of issues in Ireland, the UK and the United States, and was especially outspoken during the recent hacking scandal. He also started the #welovethenhs hashtag campaign in August 2009 in response to right-wing American criticism of the UK health service. The campaign was supported by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his successor, David Cameron.

Klout: 76
TweetLevel: 82.8

@topgold: Multimedia lecturer Bernie Goldbach is an American living in Cashel, and a stalwart of the Twitter and blogging communities here. He acknowledges that Twitter can mean different things to different people; some prefer casual online chat with acquaintances, while others glean more value from hashtag threads of interest such as the #edchatie thread he follows himself.

“I think influence is a measure of persuasiveness”, explains Bernie. “Over time, minor voices can have a measure of influence if those voices offer listeners value. On Twitter, that can be ambient intimacy, pointers to valuable content, or information about upcoming events. That’s how I decide who or what to follow.”

Klout: 62
TweetLevel: 74.4

@davidcochrane: The editor of Irish political forum Politics.ie, David Cochrane is never far from any Irish political issue on Twitter. His stream is a great source for links to discussion threads on the political issues of the day as well as some lively political debate.

Klout: 61
TweetLevel: 75.5

@arseblog: Andrew Mangan, aka Arseblogger, has been blogging about Arsenal Football Club since 2002, and is renowned for both his passion for the club and for his acerbic wit, for example this rather pointed barb at Welsh football pundit Robbie Savage. Interaction with his followers is key to his large following, even if he acknowledges that, “you can’t reply to all of them, it’s just impossible physically to reply to all of them”.

However, he notes, “Unless you reply to some of them, I don’t see what you get out of it, to be honest, because you can debate things, or have two people coming at the same thing from different angles. Without interaction, it just becomes a soapbox.”

Klout: 79
TweetLevel: 83.3

@miriamocal: Television personality Miriam O’ Callaghan’s balanced and unwavering anchoring of current affairs show Prime Time, coupled with her popularity with the Irish public, led to her being mooted as a potential candidate for President of Ireland recently. Despite such high standing, Miriam is an extremely responsive and engaged tweeter, whether raising awareness about a particular issue, or magnanimously apologising for her employer’s failure to cover Shamrock Rover’s latest game.

Klout: 59
TweetLevel: 65.6

@sendboyle: Green Party politician Dan Boyle may not have the same influence out of office, but few can claim to have ousted a government minister via social media. Boyle’s tweet expressing his lack of confidence in Willie O’ Dea set in motion the machinations which led to his resignation in 2010.

Should the Green Party ever recover from its damaging flirtation with Fianna Fáil, Boyle’s forthright, some would say naïve, insistence on tweeting things more suited to private conversation will likely have more ramifications than we can expect from more high-profile, and reserved, politicians’ tweets.

Klout: 49
TweetLevel: 66.7

@conor_pope: Irish Times journalist Conor Pope’s consumer advice is much sought-after these days, and he often mines Twitter for sources for his Pricewatch column. Conor is always willing to engage with fellow Twitterers, meaning that for aggrieved consumers, help can be just one tweet away.

“It has to be interactive”, he says of his tweeting. “You can’t just post self-publicising, puff, tweets. It has to be engaging, so it has to be interesting to people. You have to interact with people, and you have to really understand the medium, and not take yourself too seriously.”

Klout: 69
TweetLevel: 69.0

@nialler9: Niall Byrne is the editor of State magazine, and the recognised point of first contact for Irish music fans looking to hear the best new music, at home and abroad. Boasting an impressive 22,943 tweets under his belt, nialler9 is a bountiful source of streaming and download links for the best new talent out there.

Klout: 61
TweetLevel: 71.2

@guidofawkes: Like him or loathe him, there’s no denying the ability of British-born Irish citizen Paul Staines to stick in the craw of the administration and the established media in Britain. Under his would-be gunpowder plotting alias, Staines uses Twitter to take all the whispered rumour and plotting of Westminster and broadcast it to the masses.

Klout: 75
TweetLevel: 80.8

@marklittlenews: Former RTÉ news reporter Mark Little didn’t cower with the rest of the Luddites, waiting for online journalism to sweep his job away in a sea of unverified comment, opting instead to meet the challenges presented by citizen journalism head-on. Liberated by the interaction afforded by Twitter, he founded Storyful, a news curation service, which sifts through the reams of citizen sources on the Internet, and presents the reliable, newsworthy sources as news.

Mark sees authenticity, quality of content, and engagement as the key factors in having influence on Twitter, “I don’t necessarily think you have to constantly answer every query or engage with every person who retweets you or mentions you, but there has to be a solid level of engagement with people who follow you”.

Klout: 63
TweetLevel: 81.8

So, while Jedward, Ronan Keating and their ilk may remain top of the Twitter charts, the clear consensus among influential Irish Twitter users is that the pursuit of knowledge and engagement, rather than followers, is at the heart of Twitter influence. 140 characters is the great leveller in this case, as it is the quality of what you tweet, rather than your offline profile, that sets you apart.

What is the Social Semantic Web, and Why Do We Need It?

Social media is exploding! In a good way that is, not in a dramatic, cataclysmic manner. According to Bob Brisco, CEO of Internet Brands, more than half of all internet visits (in the US) are to user-generated content or social media sites – what we will term the Social Web. We’ve seen the rise of sites like Facebook (on which more time is spent than Google, Yahoo! and AOL combined) and Twitter (which today announced 100 million active users per month), and the fall of services like Bebo and Myspace.

Through social media sites, people are connected to others through the social objects that they create and share and co-participate in. These may be discussions, bookmarks, microblog posts or multimedia items, and can be on topics ranging from pets to music to holidays in Spain (or even about all three!).

Unfortunately, many social media sites act as data silos wherein the content that people are creating is locked. There are many isolated communities of users and their data. There’s a real need to connect these ‘islands’, allowing users to have mobility from one service to another and to be able to bring their data with them (profiles, photos, posts, etc.).

So on the one hand, we have the Social Web, and on the other hand, we have an effort called the Semantic Web. What’s that? Well, we as people can look at a web page and we can instantly recognise different facts. “Technology Voice is an online publisher.” “They have an office in Galway.” “Galway is a city in Ireland.” But for a computer, it’s a lot harder for it to extract these facts and to link them together. That’s what the Semantic Web does – it creates computer-understandable statements or facts that can be linked together across different websites. Then computers can use these linked facts to help us find information, to carry out tasks, to reduce the time spent piecing information together manually.

We can also do the same thing for the Social Web, so that the things that occur on these sites could be made understandable to computers (using semantics). “John is a user of boards.ie.” “John wrote this discussion post.” “This post is on the topic of Television.” “Mike replied to John’s post.”

The Social Semantic Web is the coming together of the Social Web and the Semantic Web. The Social Web is one evolution of the Web where we have moved from individuals posting information-type web pages to multiple people interacting on each page. In parallel, we’ve seen efforts to add more semantics to web pages, things like microformats and microdata, Google Rich Snippets and schema.org, and RDF, a Semantic Web standard from the W3C. This allows us to move from pages that are purely syntactic (e.g. defining styles for how to display text, headings, etc.) to semantic (describing the things mentioned in a web page).

Why should this marriage happen? It’s a two-way street: the Semantic Web can help the Social Web and vice versa. We can use the Semantic Web to describe people, content objects and the connections that bind them all together so that social sites can interoperate via semantics. In the other direction, object-centered social websites can serve as rich social data sources for the Semantic Web, which has often suffered from the so-called chicken-and-egg problem (no cool applications without data; no data without cool applications). People are creating semantically-rich information through their everyday interactions with social websites: tagging objects, replying to posts, making friend connections, retweeting, etc.

As Tim Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the Web, said in 2006: “I think we could have both Semantic Web technology supporting online communities, but at the same time online communities can also support Semantic Web data by being the sources of people voluntarily connecting things together.”

On the Social Semantic Web, there are a number of common vocabularies (sets of terms) that can be used to represent people, documents, social websites, etc. The first is called FOAF, or Friend-of-a-Friend. It is used to describe people and the relationships that exist between them – basically to provide a machine-readable version of a person’s identity and personal profile along with their social networks. FOAF data is produced from a variety of sites including LiveJournal, Identi.ca and hi5. You can create a distributed identity using FOAF: bringing together separate networks from various services, and integrating them into a single whole (if so desired).

Another vocabulary is SIOC (pronounced ‘shock’), developed by the author at DERI, NUI Galway and others. SIOC can be used to represent content (posts, comments, topics, etc.) on the Social Web for integration across a variety of platforms, and has been adopted in over a hundred frameworks including Drupal 7, Yahoo! SearchMonkey and the Newsweek website. By connecting content across different social websites, SIOC aims to enable new types of connections such as distributed conversations, virtual forums, unified communities, etc.

One common application for semantically-enhanced social content is in the search domain. With machine-readable versions of author names, number of replies, etc. for things like blog posts and forum discussions, this information can be used to enhance search results and add context to a result (showing something like “by John Breslin (32 Comments)”).

There are some other vocabularies like Meaning of a Tag and the Online Presence Ontology that, together with FOAF and SIOC, can be used to form a vocabulary stack of reusable and combinable terms for the Social Semantic Web. This stack is used in applications such as SMOB, a distributed semantic microblogging architecture developed by Alex Passant that allows users to own their own microblogging hub and to augment their posts with semantic hashtags that link to shared concepts (e.g. pages on the Wikipedia).

While the vision of a Social Semantic Web may not totally infiltrate the Social Web we use today, we can at least see some aspects of it being realised through efforts like the Facebook Open Graph Protocol and Twitter Annotations, and new services like Bottlenose. With systems like Drupal 7 now producing social semantic data out of the box, Manu Sporny estimates that there will be hundreds of thousands of these Drupal deployments within the next two years. It will be exciting to see what cool applications people will build on top of this data.

I am co-author of the book “The Social Semantic Web” with Alex Passant and Stefan Decker.

Social Media: Three Steps Towards Making it Work for You

In the spirit of Rich Moran’s “business bullet books”, here are three steps towards making social media work for you.

Step 1: Getting Onboard

Pick what services should you be on.

Choose Your Platform, Carefully: Depending on your audience, do you need to be on social networks, discussion forums (e.g. Google Groups or boards.ie), or something else entirely?

Spread Too Thin? Don’t waste time on a platform if your customers just aren’t there.

The Social Network Choices:

  • Twitter: What’s happening? Info streams.
  • Facebook: Everyone’s here, eek!
  • LinkedIn: The business network.
  • MySpace: Only if you’re selling music…
  • Bebo: Nearly kaput, even for 13 year olds.
  • Google+: Too early to define; no business pages, yet.

Decide exactly who you are.

Create Your Identity: Try and get a common brand that you can use across one or more platforms of your choice.

Pick Your “Forever” Username: Have a consistent username for your Twitter account or Facebook page.

Promoting Your Identity: Make sure you tell people about your social media identity where appropriate, e.g. in your e-mail signatures, on your website, in presentations.

Step 2: Joining In

Be part of the conversation.

Respond To Others, Meaningfully! There’s no point being a standalone broadcaster on social websites. You must engage with others, not just via your own channels.

Choose Who You Are Talking To: If you want to be a person of influence using social media, then the way to do it is to acquire engaged followers who are themselves active on the service.

Tell the world about your company, your services.

Use An Integrated Strategy: View this great video from Deanna Lee (Marketing VP at the New York Public Library) about how social media is just one part of your communications strategy.

Marketing Your Brand: If you don’t already have a sufficient community of interest around your company that you can leverage into an online community instantaneously, you may want to think about using targeted advertising, if available on your platform of choice.

Step 3: Keeping Up

Stay up to date with your interests and competitors.

Monitor Keywords: Set up searches for your own brand in TweetDeck, but also for keywords mentioning your competitors and your topics of interest. Make sure you use variants in your searches so you don’t miss out on anything, e.g. “NUI Galway” OR nuig OR nuigalway.

Think about what’s coming around the corner.

The Semantic What? The next generation of the Web, encompassing the notion of “Linked Data” whereby it’s not just pages that are linked on the Web, but rather data with an associated meaning.

The World Is Going Hyperlocal: You may need to think about a web where one’s geolocation is strongly tied to their activities online: Facebook Places (now integrated with status updates), Foursquare, Layar, and more.

I will be speaking on these and other topics at the first Irish Executives Summit in Galway next week.

Eolaí: Painting Ireland through Social Media

As Irish artist and blogger Liam Daly shows off his Motorola Zoom tablet, the nerve centre of his social media-driven painting tour around Ireland, he first produces an armoured yellow case. It looks as though it could be used to transport vials of some dastardly chemical weapon as easily as a tablet device.

His G-Form Extreme Sleeve is reputed to be able to withstand any fall and it has already been, “not intentionally”, put to the test during his trek around Ireland’s thirty-two counties. Luckily only the tablet and case ended up under the wheel of a tractor in Kerry and sore knees aside, Eolaí, as he is known on Twitter and his blogs, is in good health as he approaches the half way mark on his journey.

The case and tablet, and some dry-bags for covering his painting equipment were funded by ten paintings commissioned over Twitter, beginning a artistic journey around Ireland fuelled almost entirely by social media.

Liam was, “one of the lurkers” on Twitter in its first year and as he and around one hundred other Irish bloggers began the first wave of adoption of Twitter in Ireland, the idea first occurred to him to marry his passions of painting and cycling through social media.

“I can’t remember why, but someone that I knew through blogging, once said to me about visiting them and doing a painting for them, that basically I’d get a holiday, and they’d get a painting, and I liked it.

“It kind of niggled away at me for a few years, and liking Twitter as much as I did I thought, “I wonder could I do something mad like the whole country?” When I was much younger, and skinnier, I toured across America and across Europe.

“I keep referring to it as a social media tour, but it’s 95% Twitter, really. There is a slight angle on Facebook, but Twitter has really driven it and it’s the Twitter people for the most part that have jumped in with the commissions and jumped into hosting me.”

Although the idea had been with him for some time, when he made the decision to undertake the tour, he made minimal preparations, preferring the spontaneity of taking to the road, come what may.

With modest funding from his ten commissions, Eolaí gan fhéile (he translates this loosely as “guide without a festival”, meaning he’s no saint), took to the road, relying on Twitter users to provide bed and board in exchange for a painting.

“It’s a bit ambitious but so far it’s kind of worked. The ‘nowness’ of Twitter means you don’t have to necessarily plan. You could spend everyday planning the next day and then you don’t spend time with people, and it’s very easy to do that, because with Streetview, I could pick the perfect roads inch by inch.

“I’ve barely touched it for research like that, though, because that takes time and I’d rather be talking to someone in the flesh that I’ve been chatting to online for years and have now met for the first time.”

Liam tweets about his activities under his Eolaí account, including photos of paintings and of vistas soon to become paintings, and having resolved some technical issues plans to use Audioboo to make the tour an all-round multimedia experience. The hashtag for the tour is #paintingtour.

He has been reluctant to track too much of his movements, however, being conscious of the privacy of his hosts.

“With social media, some people are anonymous, some people are pseudonymous, and you want to protect whatever level of privacy they would like, so I don’t want to publish a map that guides someone to their house.”

Liam has seen his email usage decrease by what he estimates to be 95% since he started using Twitter and, having in the past been a user of MySpace and Bebo, he is uncertain of how long Twitter will retain its influence.

“If you’d told me six years ago that I would have been doing this, I would have thought you were mad. I wouldn’t have known that it [Twitter] would exist, that I would participate in publishing banalities that have a value, even in a business sense, and that I’d ultimately visit loads of people. That wouldn’t have struck me as right.

“Given that email has almost disappeared for me, I wouldn’t be surprised if in two years we were saying,“remember that thing called Twitter, wasn’t that great fun?”.

“It’s particularly Twitter that has driven this trip, and I’m not convinced it will always be there, and if it was to go very quickly I would have hated myself for not trying this.”

Twitter, Liam believes, has a unique character which sets it apart from other social networks. Although, after having seen other networks fade into obscurity, he is unsure about its longevity, he has found offline tweeters to be refreshingly similar to their online personalities.

This has made it easier for him to make the transition from social media to social acquaintance as he meets a new host each evening.

“There’s something about that whole 140-character thing that kind of forces an honesty out of people. It’s very hard to pretend to be what you’re not. As a result, whenever I’ve met people, they have been exactly as I thought they would be.”

“You’ve got that shared history. Either you’ve been following each other for ages, or if you haven’t, you’ve at least looked through tweets to get a sense of each other. They’re not strangers at all, they’re people I’ve been interacting with for years, in many cases.”

Having stayed longer in Galway than planned thanks to its famously inclement weather, a well-rested Liam is conscious that he is not always as positive as this about the trip; the physical side of cycling around Ireland has at times proved difficult.

“It’s great fun as a concept in a pub. There are times when my knees don’t think it’s that much fun. The overly-ambitious aim is thirty-two counties. That might not happen. If it doesn’t, fine. I’ll have met loads of people and painted lots of pictures and cycled around.

“The people of Twitter have been fantastic. From being taken for a drive to buy supplies, to giving me things, to packing me lunches, people have gone way, way above and beyond, it’s been fantastic.”

Dublin Proclaims June 30 Social Media Day

Andrew Montague on his first day as Lord Mayor of Dublin welcomes John Hartnett, President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group.

The Lord Mayor issued a proclamation declaring June 30 as Social Media Day for the City of Dublin making it the first city in Europe to do so.

At the Irish Innovation Center over 200 people are gathering to celebrate the proclamation of Social Media Day by the city of San Jose.

At the event opening remarks will be made by Tom McEnery, former City Mayor, author, businessman and John Stanton, ITLG Executive Director & President of The Irish Innovation Center.

There will be a panel Moderated by Richard Moran, venture capitalist, author and evangelist for organization effectiveness.

Even if it is not possible for you to attend you can still participate online by registering at the ITLG website.