November 2014 –

Google Campus shows the way in breaking down news silos

The smell of tech start-up innovation is intoxicating at the Google Campus in London. The ideas being generated there are helping drive Britain’s economy. Which is why the Financial Times is now focusing so much editorial attention on tech companies. The classic tech lined along the walls, the Googleboxes (once phone boxes), TVs presenting social feeds all prove one thing – geek is chic.


I was at the Campus thanks to The Media Society, which arranged an event entitled ‘Media and Tech: What’s the story?’. Chaired by BBC Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, he was joined by a panel of speakers including the European Technology Correspondent for the Financial Times, Murad Ahmed; the Technology Editor for Mirror Online, Olivia Solon; the Head of UK & Ireland Communications at Google UK, Tom Price and the Vice-President & Global Communications at SwiftKey, Ruth Barnett.


With a complimentary beer in hand, here’s what I learnt about technology and the media.

A day in the life of tech reporting
Rory began by asking each member of the panel what a typical day involved for them. Inevitably, Facebook’s role following the results of the inquiry into Lee Rigby’s murder featured prominently (Interestingly, The Mirror’s line was that Facebook was not to blame). The FT kept Google’s PR team busy over the “right to be forgotten”, no doubt complemented by tax and privacy questions. SwiftKey are in campaign planning mode and the BBC technology desk had a day of writing, TV presenting and attempting to persuade Facebook to do an interview. On both sides of the media fence, clearly their days are hectic.

The intimate relationship between hacks and flacks
We all suspected it, but now its been confirmed; top tech journalists can receive up to 500 emails a day from PRs! The majority are, according to the speakers “untargeted buzz-world filled c**p”. The Mirror estimated that of this daily deluge, only about ten each day represented anything of news value.

Given the above, its not surprising that both sides of the panel agreed that more could be done to improve the hack/flack relationship, largely by making more of an effort to better understand each other’s roles. PRs believe most journalists underestimate the stress of their role, often assuming that they are lying!

However, the main cause for concern around the top table was when hack/flack relationships get too close. At this point, journalistic integrity can be lost through inducements such as free trips and products.

For instance, it was made clear that some game companies get journalists to sign a contract to withhold poorly reviewed games until two weeks after launch. Shocking.

Facebook’s PR mess
Facebook had been at the top of the public’s mind this week since they were revealed to be the tech company at the center of Lee Rigby’s murder. It is (and was) a typical case of poorly planned PR. On the day of the inquiry’s findings, Facebook’s identity was originally hidden in the report. Its identity was revealed at approximately 4pm. At this point the story had legs, privacy concerns at the center of the inquiry could be led by Facebook’s supposed failure to act. And at that point Facebook’s PR team should have contacted specialist correspondents to share their side of the story. Uncomfortably Facebook is now being held to push the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill (AKA. Snoopers’ Charter). The more libertarian geeks in the room found this uncomfortable.

Tech is hard news, not just Christmas gift guides
The two biggest sources of stories for the FT at the moment are banking and technology, as the newspaper judges that these will be two of the key drivers for Britain’s growth. However, the typical newspaper reader still struggles to see technology beyond Christmas gift guides. Technology reporting has yet to have its seminal story about the rise of computers or growth of mobiles. The focus tends to still surround political correspondents, but increasingly some mainstream stories rely on having a good understanding of technology.

Google’s view is that our news structure is dated and still arranged around silos that may result in readers missing critical details about modern technology. Their premises shows that the future lies in a different direction.

Also published on the Keene Communications blog.

New research reveals Twitter location data lacks accuracy

Of 111,143,814 tweets collected by OII, sample studies were carried out to determine the most effective way to clarify a user’s language and geographical location.

The study discovered:

  • A user’s geographical location as written on their Twitter profile frequently conflicted with their device location (which is discoverable through individual tweets). The device location varied depending if location was detected through an IP address or GPS coordinates. A large number of users had invalid place names in their profile or too wide geographic boundaries (E.g. London, Washington or UK);
  • Of a separate sample of 19.6 million tweets, only 0.7% featured structured geolocation information;
  • There are number of significant challenges to determine the language of tweets in an automated manner (Colloquial phases, 140 character limit, use of multiple languages in single tweets, etc). Another issue was that Twitter only has thirty-three user-interface languages available, which misses key African, middle-eastern, Indian and Asian languages.

Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of language detected on Twitter, it isn’t even possible (yet) to use language for geographical detection – this could have been a useful proxy for device and profile location information.

All over the world various organisations rely on Twitter data to understand trends and patterns, mapping customer feedback or predict constituency vote swings; usually relying on technology less advanced than the OII to analyse and produce reports, compiled by people with limited understanding of spatial and language detection.

This study is a useful reminder for people who use Twitter data be aware that more work still needs to be done to improve location accuracy on Twitter. This may be achieved by asking users to supply more detailed location information in their profiles, or solved through time by increased mobile usage (therefore more GPS enabled devices being used).

However, the report does state, “Although this paper highlights the challenges associated with accurately understanding the geography of information in Twitter, this should not lead us to discount the usefulness of profile locations as a means of geolocating content”.

This post is only a short overview of the study. Read in far more detail here, in the preprint of the forthcoming article “Graham, M., Hale, S. A., and Gaffney, D. (2013). Where in the World are You? Geolocation and Language Identification in Twitter. Professional Geographer. Forthcoming.”

My interview with influential Travel Blogger, Gary Arndt

IMG_0106Think you’re a dedicated blogger? Try selling your business and home to commit your life to blogging, and travelling in this case. Because this is exactly what Travel Blogger, Gary Arndt decided in 2007. 7 years later and he has visited all 7 continents, which is over 170 countries and territories around the world. This includes every US state, 125 US National Park Service sites and over 285 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can read about his travels on his blog Everything Everywhere.

Last week I attended the World Travel Market in London to hear him talk about St Helena and interview him about his experiences. This was as part of my role at Keene Communications. Gary is an extremely insightful and confident public speaker who clearly absorbs a ton of information about each destination he visits.

You can listen to his talk and interview by clicking play below (audio linked across from the St Helena Wirebird blog).

Gary Arndt is a prime example of why I work in PR but haven’t pitched to a journalist for a year; a relatively controversial blog post of mine that some flacks just can’t hack. His reach rivals many travel magazines, he produces content that most journalists simply do not have the skills for (such as high quality video production). Although remember, the best PR campaigns are integrated – traditional journalism is still relevant.

Only good storytelling can drive social engagement

StorytellingWhen we think of social networks we tend to think of sites such as Tumblr, Flickr, SoundCloud or Twitter. Social media is often claimed to have revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, but in reality these sites simply facilitate our biological need to be social.

We have always been social animals. Sociological research shows that the ‘natural’ size of a human group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals – as most people are unable to communicate effectively outside of this group size. This is in our DNA as humans and therefore impacts our use of social networks.

For instance, Facebook research has shown that 39% of Facebook users have between 1 – 100 friends. With the overall average number of friends at 338, a median number of 200 friends. Other social networks differ with friend numbers as the way different social sites are used vary. For example, on Twitter connections are frequently unreciprocated.

In Clay Shirky’s book, ‘Cognitive Surplus’, the online consultant argues that these connections on social networks allow individuals to constructively put their spare time to use. Shirky notes that Wikipedia represents the investment of 100 million hours (in 2009); compared to 200 billion hours we spend watching television each year.

His argument is compelling, and highlights another component behind online social interactions; the story matters. A constructive social project like Wikipedia is only possible because its values unite a range of like-minded individuals.

It is these values that have allowed us to extend beyond our small social group as a species. As suggested in Harari Yuval Noah’s new book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, we are slaves to our biology that prefers small social group sizes. It is only through good storytelling that humanity has escaped our social biological lock.

This has meant that we live two realities as humans: the objective reality of the natural world around us (plants, rivers, rocks, etc) and the imagined world of gods, nations and corporations. The imagined world is stories that have been told to allow people to work together (E.g. Employees working to fulfil the goal of Mercedes, British culture and jurisdiction being recognised, Christians working to end poverty).

The online world is the imagined world; it sits beyond the fold of nature. It is the chatter behind global events, the sharing of a corporation’s PR crisis, the spread of rumour across Reddit of an electoral swing. Objectively none of our social networks really exist. Instead they are the branded names representing a number of users who have gathered because they have similar interests, values or ideology.

This is how we extend our own individual social networks from beyond 150 friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. This is why Pinterest has an overall community of 48.7 million users, how a group about mining in Africa on LinkedIn can engage 1000 members, and why we are tied up in various communities on Twitter without even knowing it.

Social networking is in our DNA and it fuels how we use social media. However, it is the stories we create that bonds social media users together.


Vivino – the new way to buy your wine

If you’re not comfortable with online shopping assistants running around a supermarket selecting your fruit, veg and meat for you, then there is only one option – leave the house to go shopping yourself.

It is this tedious domestic task which blights the weekends of my girlfriend and I. There is really no way around it; you just have to run around the supermarket fast! Although there is always one aisle that slows us down, the wine aisle.

There is just too much choice, offers and gold netting. In the aisle of colourful offers and award winners, picking a wine is near impossible. Yesterday I had a little helper though. The Vivino app.

It’s incredibly easy to use. Just open it up, select the bottle you want and take a picture of its label. Not the barcode, the actual label! Using image recognition technology, the wine is matched against the Vivino database and then profiled for you.

That is exactly what I did with this discounted to £9.99 bottle.

Vivino wine

Once scanned the app will present a long taste description, average prices, user reviews, other places to buy, and even rate wines of the same vintage. It’s all incredibly impressive, allowing me to make an informed purchase decision.

Instantly I was able to see that this wine is usually discounted, and roughly a 3/5 star bottle. There weren’t many user reviews for this one, but I’ll be adding mine later this evening.

It’s not often that I blog about apps but it’s worth trying out Vivino for yourself. Visit their website for Windows Phone, Android and iOS download links.

Happy drinking.