Technology Voice Podcast Episode 11-“Big Brother is Manipulating You”

00:00 Start
00:13 Introductions: John Breslin @johnbreslin
Marie Boran @pixievondust
Jack Harty ie.linkedin.com/pub/jack-harty/15/92b/1b9
Andrii Degeler @shlema
Fergal Gallagher @gallagherfergal
Tom Murphy @tom_murphy
01:23 Credit FlirtFM @flirtfm wwww.flirtfm.ie
01:43 Facebook – Unethical Experimentation
10:50 Social Mirror http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/news/rsa-launches-tablet-application,-social-mirror
12:54 Youtube Fan Funding http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaymcgregor/2014/06/27/youtube-announces-60fps-video-fan-funding-and-new-music-show/

16:08 Teaching unions ban coding to be taught in Irish Schools due to bigger fight about Junior Cycle reform.
http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/junior-cert-students-will-study-coding-30383449.html

22:09 Interview with Leigh Graves Wolf – Progam Director of Master of Arts and Educational Technology
#GREAT14 NUI Galway, New Engineering Building, July 15 1pm-4pm

Save the Date! #GREAT14 Galway, Ireland July 15, 2014

30:26 Aereo Loses case https://www.aereo.com

37:27 Yo! http://www.justyo.co

40:54 StartApp Competition report http://www.startappcompetition.com
Featuring:
Phil McNamara – Voxpro http://www.voxprogroup.com/news/
Clare Fitzpatrick – Wayra http://ie.wayra.org/en/academia/dublin
Neal O’Gorman – Artomatix http://artomatix.com/about
Bill Tai – VC http://about.me/billtai

50:14 Tech Finance with Jack Harty
Cash Burn
CEO vs Non-Executive Director
Difference between Cash & Profits http://www.investopedia.com/articles/analyst/03/122203.asp

60:51 Amazon’s Firefly http://gizmodo.com/firefly-lets-fire-phone-scan-just-about-anything-and-bu-1592717776

61:00 Startup Galway – http://startupgalway.org

62:00 Wrap up and thank yous

Skyping on Facebook

The early adoption crowd has been waiting all week for Mark Zuckerberg’s “awesome” announcement, which the Facebook founder promised during a visit to the company’s Seattle office last week. Admittedly, in Zuckerberg’s vernacular, the word awesome doesn’t carry quite the same weight as it does for the rest of us, but thankfully, today’s announcement didn’t constitute a description of the billionaire’s breakfast, but rather the not entirely unexpected launch of Facebook’s incorporation of VoIP service Skype into its interface as Facebook video chat.

For the privacy conscious among us, the revelation that Facebook still makes announcements may have come as something of a surprise, given the relative stealth with which it has introduced recent features such as automatic face recognition, but today was all about positive stories for Facebook.

Although talk of the social media giant’s demise may be premature, the amount of Buzz (pun intended) generated by Google+ over the past week will have worried Zuckerberg despite the fact that a profile attributed to him is the most followed on Google+.

Google Hangout, which allows for up to ten friends to chat at once, would likely have had Skype running scared as it was, so pairing its 170 million users with Facebook’s now-confirmed 750 million users makes sense for Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition as well as helping Facebook keep pace with Google in the social media stakes.

However, while Facebook has incorporated group chats into its text chat feature, Facebook video chat remains a one-to-one video chat feature, just like Skype. The process is clean and relatively hassle-free; no external Skype account is needed, and one user with the video chat plug in can call another without it, at which point the recipient will be prompted to install the plug in.

One concern that Facebook will have is that the outages which have dogged Skype in the past couple of months will not blight Facebook’s video chat; such downtime may result in users defecting to Google, never to return, however Skype CEO Tony Bates assured the assembled press at today’s launch that, “the technology is tough”.

Zuckerberg said at today’s launch that while he wouldn’t rule out group video calling in the future, possibly as a paid, premium feature, he, “wouldn’t undersell the importance of today”, which he described as “symbolic of the way [Facebook] are going to do things, which is a focus on Facebook providing a social infrastructure, and outsourcing the creation of apps to independent entrepreneurs whom he described as, “best in class”.

This seems to be a deliberate tactic to not go toe to toe with Google, who can, it seems, create any app that Facebook can, only better, as evinced by their already rolled-out group chat.

Rather, Facebook seems content to rely on the fact that it has 750 million and growing members, and that companies that have not as yet embraced social media will come to them with apps, “Companies that are best in class are thinking about “how are we going to offer our product in a social way?””

Zuckerberg is clearly hoping that these companies, of whom he cited Netflix as a potential example, will seek safety in numbers and choose Facebook as their social platform of choice.

Neurons Behaving Like Social Networks

The way our brains communicate within themselves and the way we communicate between ourselves seem to be increasingly similar. In a recent report, An Embedded Subnetwork of Highly Active Neurons in the Neocortex researchers from Carnegie Mellon University observed that in a part of the brain called the neocortex neurons show the same pattern of behaviour as those displayed in social networks.

Neurons are the brain’s transmitters of information. They transfer signals either electrically or chemically. However in the seems that in the subnetwork of this particular part of the brain some neurons are more active than others.

Alison Barth is the Associate Professor on the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU.) To assess the firing of individual neurons she invented the fosGFP detection method which was used in a transgenic mouse. This type of functionality allows the observer to determine the how much a given cell is stimulated without damaging the cell itself.

In an email that Professor Barth sent to us she wants to make it clear that she, “had no intention of studying what neurons do when we’re on Facebook, or how Facebook is like the brain.  But the analogy to differentially interconnected networks (such as social networking sites, like Facebook) that was quoted in the CMU press release is quite reasonable and provocative with respect to our work.”

In that news release Professor Barth is quoted as saying, “It’s like Facebook. Most of your friends don’t post much — if at all. But, there is a small percentage of your friends on Facebook who update their status and page often. Those people are more likely to be connected to more friends, so while they’re sharing more information, they’re also receiving more information from their expanded network, which includes other more active participants.”

According to Professor Barth some questions that now need to be looked at are, “Why are some neurons more active?  How do they become this way?  What drives them to be interconnected to each other?  It’s quite plausible that social networks will help stimulate new hypotheses to understand the organization and behavior of micronetworks, like those that exist in the brain.”

In a previous article HTM: New Algorithms And A New Way Of Programming we discussed the work that Jeff Hawkins was doing on Hierarchical Temporal Memory in which he is using the physical structure of the surface layer of the neocortex to determine how the brain efficiently codes information into memory in the most energetically economic way.

The algorithms that he is developing are never going to be an exact copy of the brain but it is possible to get a model for coding and decoding information that is a very close approximation of how the brain works and thus benefit ourselves accordingly.

In the Victorian age the workings of the mind were compared to the leading technology of the time which was steam. “Letting some steam off” was an expression that entered the language amongst others that reflected this kind of thinking. Latterly in the computer age there has been a tendency to model the brain as something akin to a computer and associated paradigms have emerged around that idea.

But as we learn more and more about how the brain really works we can see that what actually goes on in our heads and what goes on in the world are inextricably intertwined. The steam age and the computer age as marvellous as they were may only be very crude approximations of the technical sophistication of our own brains.

With each new discovery in the field of neuroscience it becomes increasingly more possible to use this information and design and engineer systems based on the systems that go on inside our skull that work very well for us.

As we discover and observe phenomena like information transmitted through social networks working in a very similar way to the way neurons move signals through our brains there is every reason to suppose that future discoveries may reveal more surprising connections between what goes on inside inside our brains and what happens outside in the world.

If the most fundamental network of signal transmitters we have acts like one of the largest social networks that we have created (leaving aside how it is managed) then it is reasonable to expect that there are going to be plenty more lessons to be discovered and learned over the coming years.

Faye Dinsmore: Irish Facebook Phenomenon

Faye Dinsmore is a graduate of trinity College Dublin and she is now signed to IMG Models, one of the world’s top international modelling agencies. She is originally from Ballintra, Donegal and is the youngest of a family of fourteen. Faye now spends her time between Paris, New York and London. She is one of those rare Irish models that have achieved international acclaim.

On the advice of her agency she set up a Facebook Page. Something Faye herself thought to be an incredibly self-obsessed thing to do. She only ever expected to have just a few hundred people ‘liking’ her but to her surprise the number of fans of her page has just passed 225,000. This makes her, by a considerable margin, the Irish person with the most likes on Facebook.

Just recently, Technology Voice got the chance to ask Faye about how she managed to become so successful on Facebook.

How much of a user of Facebook were you before you started your fan page?

Basically, I’d started to get a huge number of friend requests on Facebook every day, as well as countless messages from people all over the world, who might have read or seen an editorial or campaign I was in. It seemed like a sensible idea and something a lot of other international models do, so as strange as it felt I started a fanpage and essentially made my personal profile all but invisible. I think for the first 24 hours I only had one fan and that was me.

As regards using Facebook, I was a heavy user of Facebook prior to that. Sadly, I was in Ireland only twice in 2010, so Facebook is really the one and only way I stay in touch with friends back home.

What kind of strategy did you use to get to get such high numbers?

I can’t say I had any sort of strategy. I’ve had an iPad since I started my fanpage, so any time I found a little downtime on set or at a show, I just started posting behind the scenes pictures, sharing interesting articles from fashion websites, doing status updates and so on. I guess some people liked what I was sharing. Eventually I found a Facebook fanpage slightly restrictive so I started a blog which has proven popular.

Sometimes people share posts I do thousands of times. Bit by bit the blog has become more popular outside of fashion capitals. For example, in December more people visited my blog from Dublin, Ireland, than most of Ireland’s major fashion magazines have monthly readers. (Over 40,000 people from Dublin alone visited my blog in December).

Finally, I always do my own posts as opposed to one of my agencies in Paris or New York doing them. Oh, and one other thing, I regularly do particular posts for say fans in Colombia or Indonesia or Ireland, posts that you only see if you are in a particular country or even city. I use Google Translate to put a phrase into Indonesian or whatever the language happens to be. I think people really appreciate that.

How meaningful or useful is it to have such a lot of ‘friends’?

It has become substantially more meaningful in New York in recent months, and that trend will extend to other fashion capitals in the coming year. So for example, an increasing number of big clothing labels will now specify in a contract with a model that she must also use her Facebook fanpage, if she has one, to promote a given campaign. And for most major international models that’s no problem as they all now have Facebook fanpages that they regular update.

How hard is it to manage in terms of hours and effort?What sort of advice would you give to others who wanted to increase their Facebook presence?

I guess I spend on average about 10 minutes a day, maybe less. Advice, me! Mmm… If people are not sharing or liking your content then their friends won’t ever come across your page and as a consequence you may find it hard to grow a presence. Just be yourself.

Oh and you’ve got to have some perspective. What I mean by that is that one hundred fans can be a lot of fans depending on how niche the product or person. A local football club in a particular village appeals to people in that village, say a maximum of 500 people in total. A band or an artist that plays all over the world appeals to a potential audience of hundreds of millions. I may have close to quarter of a million fans, but when you put that in perspective, perhaps it’s not that much.

With so many people on Facebook it is difficult to go viral – what in your opinion was the tipping point for you – is it the fact that the industry is so pioneering and so it is either first to market or those with considerable influence will rise up?

I don’t know if there has been a tipping point, but instead there are occasional mini tipping points. For example, if you appear in a magazine that is distributed all over South America and Spain in a particular month then you’ll get a big increase in fans from these areas. Sometimes, something you post goes somewhat viral, but you can almost never predict that.

Google Analytics & Facebook Fans

Traffic to Faye’s blog from Facebook has reached 40,000 visitors from Dublin alone. Contrast that figure with the number of fans that the Irish publications of Social & Personal – Dublin, Tatler, and Image have – Faye has more likes than all of them combined.

In the world of social media, where high numbers can equal influence which can then equal attention, Faye’s status updates makes her a major influencer in her particular niche in the lucrative world of fashion. They have a reach that surpasses anyone else in Ireland and have a global spread as well.

However, what seems to separate her from other high profile people and organisations is her willingness to not only share her observations and experiences with her audience but to engage with them as well. As always, the key to social media is being social.

Optim.al: Accessing the Facebook API

Facebook is huge. It has over half a billion sign ups and even allowing for dummy and secondary accounts that still leaves a lot of people actively engaged with its service. A good deal of Facebook’s potential commercial power is based on the access to personal information that it has obtained from its user profiles and the monitoring of their activities, their likes, their shares, their posts and so on. But even an enormous, well-funded company like Facebook which has the ability throw immense resources at any given challenge realises that it cannot do everything itself.

As Sasha Ziman, Sales Director of Optim.al, puts it, “The notion of the API and the development of relationships with companies such as Optim.al is that they know they don’t have all the answers and so they have invited vendors to try and innovate using their tools.”

Optim.al is a platform where advertisers, big and small, can go on and create campaigns and test a lot of their creative ideas for their Facebook campaign and figure out which creative ideas and variables are the best.

Optim.al is a part of Xa.net which was founded by Rob Leathern who in his own words, “engineered a great deal of multivariate testing and optimization for display ads, emails and text ads at LinkedIn and NexTag and saw an opportunity to extend these methodologies to the rapidly growing and evolving Facebook ad ecosystem.”

Optim.al are among the very few Facebook data API partners and they have direct access to the Facebook ad-server. Their multivariant platform tool can substitute for Facebook’s own interface.

The advertiser can give permission to Optim.al to target their connections so they can advertise to them. Or, very neatly, they can advertise to everyone except their connections. They can also reach out to the friends of their connections which for many Facebook users can be a very large group.

The advertisements themselves are broken up into the headline, the body copy, and an image. The primary body text is broken up into two pieces. It was felt that the ‘call to action’ should be dealt with as a sole element and is therefore treated as a variable itself.

Sasha explains further, “[With this creative optimization platform] not only can we test out which ads and parts of ads are doing best but we can also figure out which audience components are successful as well. Not only can you get indications of responses from gender you can also break up the analytics according to their likes and interests.”

The full factorial of options, the multiple and varied ways that and advertisement can be created, combined and recombined can get deep, complicated and unwieldy very quickly. The issue with running every possible combination of an ad is the time and energy that is required to sift the information from the noise.

Fortunately, to help users avoid being overwhelmed there are simpler routes through the system. There are videos available to help with working through the options and it is possible to outsource the entire experimentation to Optim.al itself.

There are a lot of the other platforms which help advertisers manage their Facebook campaigns but this technology which was developed in-house by their own engineers has the ability to give its users insights to improve campaigns that they might otherwise have found very hard to obtain. It enables advertisers to pinpoint what makes their creative work great or not great.

The key here is audience segmentation, audience targeting and really creating ads that resonate with that audience. The power of being able to access a service like Facebook directly is that you have hundreds of millions of people who will tell you exactly who they are and what they like.

Whether Facebook will open its doors further to allow more third parties to have access to their API has yet to be seen. Considering how valuable the social graphs are that it possesses it us unlikely we will see a third-party eco-system that exists around say, Twitter.

However, the willingness of Facebook to allow companies to have direct access to its ad-servers may be indicative of an increasing self-awareness of the limits of its own capability that comes with maturity borne of experience.

Weedle: Creating a Fabric of Credibility

Iain MacDonald started Weedle with the desire to provide a fundamentally better way of connecting people who have skills to people who need them within a trusted environment. Weedle employs 18 people at present, most of whom are mathematically and software orientated, and has users in over 160 countries. Not bad for a company that is only about a year old.

The origins of Weedle began when Iain needed to solve an arboreal problem at his home. He explains further, “I needed to find somebody who could help me cut down some trees at the bottom of my garden. I spent a bit of time asking my friends and my family if they knew somebody but unfortunately they didn’t. Then I went to Google and I found people who said they were very good tree surgeons but they were strangers to me. I found it very hard to trust them in terms of their competence, their value money, their reliability or their trustworthiness.

“I was pretty sure that the right person was out there. That they were out there looking to connect with me and I’m looking for someone with a skill I need and I am trying to connect with them. But the reality is that it is currently very difficult for us to find each other.”

Iain designed Weedle so that people who are searching for someone with a skill can go beyond just depending on how the suppliers have presented themselves, either via advertising or simply having membership of a professional or trade body. Using social networks as a means of verification there is now a way to assess other factors such as reliability and suitability in terms of being able to work with them.

“When you are looking for a lawyer or someone like that, often when a friend recommends them to you and you end up going to the lawyer they can turn out to be not the sort of person you are looking for. We can circumvent that waste of time by being able to see all the details of the person who has the skill before you contact them.

“What we have is a fabric of credibility. Say, I go to Weedle and I make my skill page. In order to be found when someone searches for me there are a couple of things we take into account in the context of our search algorithm. So, the first one is the content of my skill page and does it match for what someone would be searching for. The next element we take into account is who this person is actually connected to. We may have someone who has created a skill page and is connected to fifty people but they may be less credible then someone who has connected a skills page that maybe only connected to five people.”

How does Weedle compare to Facebook and Linkedin?

“Facebook is very good for communicating with your friends and Linkedin is very good for managing your white-collar network of contacts. But it is not so good if you are looking for a plumber or a carpenter.

“Even if you were looking for a corporate lawyer to float your company on the Nasdaq you’ll get a resume or a some type of CV. What people are really looking for is what projects has he or she been involved in, what role did he play, how long did it take him to do it and to see examples of the expertise that he has.

“It’s not just about say, a yoga teacher who simply states they have worked in ABC Yoga for the last five years. On Weedle you will see; this is where they trained, this is where they worked and here is a video of her giving a yoga class. Here are photographs of the yoga studio, here is a list of ten people that are in your network that went to their class.”

How much of a role does Semantic Web technology have in your system?

“It’s really very significant: A lot of sites using search have gone down the hierarchical directory structure route. A person would have to pick from a drop-down box and choose ‘telecom industry’ and then ‘mobile telephony’ and then ‘mobile network.’ It’s very hierachical and pigeon-holes people into specific positions.

“The particular benefit of using a semantic ontology is that we have no hierarchy to the classification of our user skills. If you go on to the site declaring that you are a carpenter then all you need to do is say “I am a carpenter.” We know that we need to present that search result in a population of search results generated when others search for terms like carpenter, woodworker or joiner.

“We can apportion levels of relevance to the skill pages we have versus search strings. Machine learning combined with Semantic Web technology creates a much better user experience.”

The underlying idea that determines credibility and trustworthiness both offline and online is social proof. Any claim you may make about yourself personally or professionally is validated, or not, against how you are perceived by your social network. Professional bodies may declare you competent and award you some sort of certification and send you out the door to ply your trade but it is how you handle your day to day dealings that really count for most people.

Iain has come up with a system that allows you to access the layers of social trust that surrounds us all and enables access to the sort of vital information on someone that would only normally become available over time and after, possibly, a number of encounters.

Starting Out With Facebook Targeted Advertising

I recently ran my first Facebook advertising campaign in order to promote an engineering degree course here at NUI Galway. Although it may have been run too late to change most students’ minds about what course they wanted to do, I thought it might be interesting to share some insights into the Facebook advertising process, and to give an idea of the power of the targeted advertising system they provide.

When you click on the “Create an Ad” button on Facebook, you are presented with some ad design options – namely, the URL where you want people to click through to, the title (limited to 25 characters, which requires some imaginative juggling of words and txtspk), an image, and a description for the ad (135 characters). This is standard stuff, but where it gets really interesting is when you start playing with the targeting options.

By default, you normally need to choose a target country. Choosing Ireland will inform you there is an estimated reach of 1.5 million people who are 18 or over on Facebook. Choosing the USA changes that figure to 120 million. Considering the population estimates for Ireland and the USA are around 4.5 million and 300 million respectively, that’s at least a third of each country who use the site. You can choose countrywide or city-specific targeting.

You can then fine tune in terms of demographics: age and sex. But clicking on the less obvious “Advanced Targeting Options” link shows some fascinating options: target people on their birthdays; target people interested in men or women; target people in a particular type of relationship (single, engaged, married, other); and languages. You can also target people at different education levels and in specified workplaces.

Finally you choose your daily budget, and also whether you want to go for eyeballs on ads (cost per mille – CPM) or clickthroughs (cost per click – CPC), along with a bid amount for how much you are willing to pay for impressions or clicks.

This may sound like a bit of a black art, and since it was my first campaign, I decided to adopt a gambling strategy by placing my money on different horses. I knew that parents were highly influential in their child’s choice of college course, but I also knew that I primarily wanted to show the ads to school-goers. Then I wanted to make sure that I covered other groups like teachers, relatives, etc.

So I went for a three-pronged approach:

Secondary school students
…exactly between the ages of 16 and 19 inclusive
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns and cities in the west of Ireland
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 40 cents

Parents
…exactly between the ages of 40 and 55 inclusive – (I was estimating an age range of the teenager’s age plus 24 to 36)
…who are married – (I know this often may not be true, but it helped cut out many wasted ads to non-parents)
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 60 cents

Everyone else
…who live in Ireland
…selected cost per 1000 impressions (CPM) was 20 cents

And here are the results. For about €520, my ad was shown about 7 million times, and was clicked on about 1,750 times. That’s an overall average cost of about 30 cents per click.

It’s difficult to estimate if a click is worth more than a printed flyer sent in the post, but if you know roughly what type of clicker you had, then it’s pretty valuable information. Of those 1,750 clickthroughs, 1,100 were from the “secondary school students” group. 250 were from the “parents” group. I had budgeted about twice as much money for students, but for a lower bid rate they actually got double the clickthrough rate of the parents. The “everyone else” category was shown as much as the other two campaigns put together, perhaps due to the wider geographic spread, but received less clicks than the students, perhaps due to the ad placement (CPC being prioritised over CPM).


Clickthroughs for the three campaigns. The dip is due to my credit card maxing out while travelling!

What was interesting was that the most successful campaign was indeed the targeted-to-students one. But I was surprised that the broad spectrum campaign outdid (by 150 clicks) that of the one targeted to parents in the region, for the same amount of money spent (€130 each).

Facebook offers very fine-grained reports on campaigns. There are also stats regarding “social clicks”, i.e. the number of ad impressions where the viewer saw that a friend had liked the ad. Interesting stuff, and it seems there is still lots for me to learn…

Blaine Cook Introduces Us To Webfinger

Blaine Cook was in charge of building Twitter for the first couple of years of its existence before moving on to pastures new. At the moment, he is working with Osmosoft which is the open source innovation arm of BT. Last month, he came to Galway, Ireland to speak at BlogTalk 2010 about another one of his current projects, Webfinger.

The current situation that we have at the moment with the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, and so on can be likened to a type of sharecropping. In that scenario, you get to work on the farm, but you don’t get to own the farm. The owners of the social networking platforms, like the landowners of old, get to call the shots, and at any point you can lose your farm. Or, in our modern world version, you lose access to your accrued data and any kind of community you may have created. As Blaine says, “It’s a very tenuous situation to be in.”

How do we manage having control over our network and be able to create rich networks?

“Social networks are premised on this idea of the network effect. If you have a single fax machine in the world, it is not a very useful device. But if everybody now has a fax machine, it is now a very powerful communications device. So, if you’ve got one user on your social network, it’s not a useful social network. But if you’ve got all 150 million users from Twitter and 500 million users from Facebook, you can use your social network for, potentially, a much more powerful and engaging story. You can build much richer communities.”

So how do we get away from relying on Facebook and Twitter, and actually move towards a more internet-like approach where people can construct these networks themselves?

“The analogy from the past is that in the semi pre-internet days when the Internet existed but most people didn’t have access to it, there were a couple of providers: CompuServe, AOL, [Minitel in France, and a few elsewhere.] They all had e-mail facilities, but you couldn’t e-mail between them. If you wanted to send a message to someone and you’re on CompuServe, they had to be on CompuServe. Eventually we ended up in a situation where now we just use e-mail. These other networks don’t matter… because we moved to a technology, SMTP, the infrastructure that powers e-mails nowadays.”

How do we replicate this transformation with the current stage of the Web?

“How do we make it so that if I set up a photo sharing site I can share photos with someone that is on Flickr? Or say if I use software for my conference planning, I can share my conference planning on Lanyrd with someone not on Lanyrd without having to sign up with Lanyrd. There’s plenty of these sites and I don’t want to sign up for every single one of them, and I don’t want to duplicate my social network and do all of this work multiple times. These are the questions that have brought me to working on Webfinger.

“There is another challenge. Even if we accept that it’s okay to have one social network in charge of the whole world, the reality is that our real world existence is much more complicated than that. The reality is that we have very diverse interactions with people. You’ve got co-workers and you have family and you’ve got friends. If you’re a school teacher, you have co-workers and you have students. So we have all these complicated relationships with different people, and we actually present [ourselves] in a different way to them. We are performers in our own social existence, and we put on different masks and different identities to carry out these different interactions.

“Facebook is like a wedding from hell. Because it’s everybody you know, everybody you’ve ever met is just kind of hanging out. And if you were ever in a physical social space that would be like Facebook, it would be the most horrific experience you’ve ever had. Your mum who’s sitting next to your boss who’s sitting next to your first girlfriend who’s sitting next to your current wife, and then you have a couple of students from school or something. It’s a really, really broken situation.

“Really what we want are diverse networks that allow us to communicate in more rich ways and more specific ways.”

So where does Webfinger come in?

“The first problem that comes up is how do we deal with naming people? How do we deal with names and how do we address people? We have addresses for people in terms of postal addresses, through phone numbers, e-mail addresses. Your postal address is one of the first things you learn as a child. I am sure today kids would learn their phone numbers and e-mail addresses very early on. But we don’t have that for the social web.

“So, when we are thinking about these identity questions, the most important thing in all of them is not the technology that drives them, the data formats or any of the technical bits – that’s very, very secondary… There’s literally dozens of different ways to approach the technological side of things. But I think we lose sight, too often, of the social side of things… The thing that brought me specifically to Webfinger and the way that it works is thinking about how people use the Internet.

HTTP addresses and web URLs don’t really make sense to people. You have people googling for Yahoo and yahooing for Google. They don’t get the URLs but my grandmother is perfectly happy to e-mail me. She does that all the time, and she understands how to write down an e-mail address and contact me that way. What I wanted, essentially, was the usability of an e-mail address where you have a name and a place.

“So, how do we take this e-mail address which is name at place, and turn that into web URLs? Because we know how to work with web URLs. We know how to build technologies around them that allow us to do identity, to do data exchange, RSS and Atom feed syndication stuff – we know how to do that.

“Webfinger is really just a way to translate e-mail addresses to web URLs and that’s it… it takes literally minutes to set up for the simplest cases, so it is something that is very, very accessible. We’ve designed it to have minimal impact on the technology we need to use in your site to make it work, so it’s very adoptable.”

Webfinger is now supported by Google, Yahoo and AOL, and there is a chance that Microsoft may join the fray. At the beginning of the year, there were almost 1.5 billion e-mail users, which is an enormous base to bootstrap from. We will be talking to Blaine in the next couple of months to see how things are progressing.

You can watch this video of Blaine explaining more about Webfinger at BlogTalk 2010.

SpunOut.ie: A Highly Effective Use of Facebook for Increasing Awareness

In just four short months from April to August, 2010, SpunOut.ie have raised the number of people on their Facebook page community from around the 400 mark to nearly 12,000 participants, as of writing. This is a remarkable achievement for a small Galway based charity whose stated aim is to educate and inform young people in the 16 – 24 age on the issues that concern them and encourage engaged citizenship through social activism.

Ruairí Mckiernan, with the help of some friends, started SpunOut.ie from his bedroom in 2004 using a dial-up modem which would sometimes take half an hour just to send an email. SpunOut.ie, (the term ‘spunout’ comes from the notion that youth culture is fed up with spin; political spin, religious spin, spin from teachers, the media and advertisers.and they are ‘spun out’,) was always intended to be web-based. Taking advantage of platforms such as forums and informational pages to share information and have discussions about issues such as sexual health, mental health, drugs, alcohol and other matters of concern to young people.

Ruairí says, “The burning motivation for me was that at the height of the Celtic Tiger, seeing that the sole emphasis was on economic development, development, development. At the same time social development was going in the opposite direction. It seemed to me [to be an increase] in terms of suicide and mental health, particularly around younger people who were being developed as economic units rather than citizens. If you look around now and ask where is everyone and what are they doing and why is there no big big engagement, it’s because the investment was to bring people into the corporate world. Which is fair enough but it needs to be balanced with social development.”

He goes on to say, “The website provides a channel for people to discuss, debate and participate in a way that they don’t normally get. The internet provides the opportunity for people to discuss things that they feel a little bit more safer with. There is a degree of anonymity if there are taboo issues. And some of the major taboo issues in Ireland are around the issues of mental health and sexual health.”

These are sensitive issues and on the main site there are is a trained team of moderators in child protection and suicide preventions skills. Ruairí points out, “ Obviously there are risks in providing an open space so we mitigate against that in a way that Facebook mightn’t by resourcing with [trained] staff.”

What social networking platforms like Facebook can do is offer organisations like SpunOut.ie the means to reach a much larger audience that they might not normally have access to and tap into a new set of resources. There are roughly 630,000 people in Ireland alone that fit into SpunOut.ie’s target demographic.

Jason Coomey, the charity’s web developer, was tasked with helping build on the organisations significant development work to increase SpunOut.ie’s profile on Facebook. It became clear very quickly that this was almost a full-time job. Ruairí says, “It’s not every organization or company that would put somebody just on to Facebook. But it’s something we have made an organizational decision around for now.”

One of Jason’s first tasks was to work with the SpunOut.ie team in migrating user activity away from the profile page which allows friends to access other friends information directly to the more public although ironically more private space of a Facebook page. They found that advertising on Facebook took a different turn from using Google Adwords. The latter is focused on keywords while Facebook is focused on demographics.

To encourage people to like their page they decided to run competitions. The prizes were for such things as tickets for the Oxegen and Electric Picnic concerts. Another prize on offer was an ipad.

One of the things they quickly learned was to set up the promotion in its own tab and in the settings make that the landing page. Jason says, “When people land on the site they should be sent to the first page that you want them to see. This can be done by setting up a tabbed page and then change the setting on the page so when someone arrives they get sent to the relevant page immediately. People have a very short attention span. It’s 15 seconds, perhaps as low as five or three seconds or less and that’s it.”

But they didn’t want these competitions to be mindless affairs. Like every charity they need to come up with strategies and plans to justify why they should receive funding. Some of this information can only be gleaned from doing surveys which, traditionally at best, can only be referred to as being very dry affairs.

Jason tells what happened, “We ran an ipad competition to get people to fill a survey as part of our strategic review. Over fifteen hundred people participated in the survey. The quality of the information was amazing. It’s not as though we came away with 11k fans we didn’t know what to with. We had fifteen hundred people [participate] and we acquired an extra eleven thousand fans as well.”

The Facebook average is 0.04% (figures from 2007 so may well be dated,) return on click throughs. Naturally, Ruairí and Jason would wish to keep certain matters confidential but they do claim that the returns from their activities were significantly better than the Facebook average for the ipad competition.

There is a very small window of opportunity for an ad campaign. As little as a day or two before results fall away rapidly. But click through rates are not enough and a lot of statistical analysis takes place in determining if a rise or fall in click through rates results in more or less fans.
It is not a straightforward relationship and all the data has to be looked at very carefully.

But awareness is not enough. Ruairí, “I am passionate about the need for social change in Ireland and I see the internet as one way of achieving that. If you don’t have a passion about it, it won’t work, it won’t get off the ground.” SpunOut.ie now has an online audience of 500,000 people. “We are trying to engage them is social issues and activate them as active citizens. We want them to get interested in the big issues of the day and to do something about them.

“We’re in a really good position but we’re not in a really good financial position to secure that for the future. So not to lose the huge goodwill that we have built up we would like others to come in and row with us. We’re keen on suitable partners. We’re actively looking for support in developing, marketing and funding to realize our full potential.”

If you think you can help in any way you can find the SpunOut.ie team at their Facebook page or on their home site.

Ruairí Mckiernan is one of the speakers at BlogTalk 2010 being held this week in Galway, Ireland.