Tag Archives: technology

Why Big Data is a human problem, not a technology one

At the beginning of October our VP of Products Francesco D’Orazio hosted a talk at the Internet & Mobile World conference in Romania. This event was focused highly on the digital transformation of businesses, aiming to highlight the online and mobile challenges they are faced with. Leading experts from the technology world gathered to share their thoughts on what’s driving forward the industry and how this translates to business.

“Big data” has been around for a few years now but for every hundred people talking about it there’s probably only one actually doing it. As a result Big Data has become the preferred vehicle for inflated expectations and misguided strategy.

As always, the seed of the issue is in the expression itself. Big Data is not so much about a quality of the data or the tools to mine it, it’s about a new approach to product, policy or business strategy design. And that’s way harder and trickier to implement than any new technology stack.

In Fran’s talk from the Internet & Mobile World, he looks at where Big Data is going, what are the real opportunities, limitations and dangers and what we can do to stop talking about it and start doing it today.

Please see below if you want to have a closer look at the slides Fran used in his presentation:

If you want to learn more about how social data can positively impact your company, get in touch by emailing: Francesco.dorazio@facegroup.com

Fresh Faces: Introducing our growing Social Media Insight team

Like Real Madrid and Man United, FACE have been busy this summer in the transfer market adding lots of fresh faces to our global Social Media Insight team.

Rob Parkin has joined us from social business consultancy Engage. We like new Facers to introduce themselves so over to Rob for a quick Q&A:


How did you get into social research? What brought you to Face?

I became fascinated with research when studying for my degree in psychology & sociology, and I’ve always been a very curious person – so research is the best way for me to exercise that curiosity. It’s been a very natural process.

After my degree I was working hard to expand my understanding of social media because I saw it as vital to any research role. As a result I got a position at Mintel working with a range of different methodologies, including social. It didn’t take me long to realise where I should be focusing my attention.

What brought me to FACE is the people who work here. The blend of qualitative experience and the understanding of technology is an ideal mix for social media research. I wasn’t aware of anyone else who could even compete with FACE on this.

How do you think the growing role of tech in market research changes the role of agencies?

Technology is growing in importance for a lot of industries, and market research is no exception. The consumerisation of tech has driven change, while businesses have struggled to keep up. Perhaps the market research industry as a whole hasn’t evolved as much as it could.

The responsibility of an agency is to understand the role technology plays in shaping consumers’ lives. But agencies must also understand how technology can be used to collate new sources of data, and allow new methodologies for carrying out research. I think the role of agencies is increasingly becoming consultative, and clients are looking for an agency that has the expertise and the understanding to ensure they can grow into a social business. I think there’s a lot of agencies claiming to incorporate social into what they do, but fundamentally what they do hasn’t really evolved.

What does FACE’s mission statement, “Helping business be more social intelligent,” mean to you?

It’s about helping brands see and understand customers in the context of their wider social interactions. People’s most valuable relationships are with each other, and it’s here that brands are being socially constructed.

Being more social intelligent means a brand is geared up to function more efficiently by bringing the views of their customers into the core of the business – ideally in real-time. With better insight, they’re able to make better insight-led decisions.


What is your favorite part of London? What would you tell a visitor to go see first?

I’d recommend getting involved in one of London’s food markets. If they’re feeling brave then they could go to Borough Market, get stocked up with food then grab a locally brewed ale in The Market Porter. Although personally I’d rather go to Broadway Market, and then pop into The Dove for one – or maybe two!

[The Dove, Hackney - photo by Ewan-M]

Look out for the profiles of other fresh faces in the coming weeks as Jalita, Jamie and Anna join as Account Managers, and Chris, Terezza and Sameer also settle into their new research roles.


Youth Squad Grows

Like any good team we are also developing young talent by launching the Face Graduate Programme this August. The aim of the programme is to find and develop a new breed of researchers who can fill a number of emerging insight roles including social media researcher, co-creation consultant and community manager.

We look forward to introducing you to our new graduate team throughout the autumn.

Face Launches Pulsar TRAC to Mine Big Social Data for Research

- Pulsar TRAC moves the marketing industry beyond social media monitoring -

Today we are unveiling Pulsar TRAC, an advanced social intelligence platform which pushes social media research beyond keyword tracking.

Born out of 10 years experience of research and planning with social data, Pulsar TRAC is built on a robust intelligence framework enabling marketers to do more than just keyword tracking: measuring the reach of conversations, mapping brand audiences and tracking content diffusion.

Pulsar TRAC

It solves many of the issues found in current social media monitoring tools, such as the obsession with volume-led metrics, the lack of demographic and behavioural context, no understanding of the audience, poor interfaces and the inability to weight the impact of conversations.

That’s why Pulsar TRAC is the only platform on the market currently that allows mining of big social data in four new ways:

1) Visibility measurement- estimate the reach of each post

Top Posts by Visibility

2) Audience mapping – who are you talking to and what do they like

Find Real Influencers Screen

3) Content tracking – how does your content travel the social web

content tracking Content Tracking

4) Advanced filtering – 14 behavioural, contextual and demographic filters to find exactly what you are looking for

Advanced filters

“We’ve been really impressed with the speed and efficiency of Pulsar TRAC and its ability to provide real time actionable insight. We’re particularly excited about the audience mapping and content diffusion capabilities – they allow us to really target and understand specific groups of people in real-time.” - Jake Steadman, Head of Real Time Research at O2 Telefonica.

“Face’s Pulsar TRAC is invaluable for identifying real-time insight into the way that our audiences are engaging with content and stories. The key difference with PULSAR TRAC is that the platform offers a high quality social media insight system, supported by analysis that creates meaningful stories from the data with clear actionable steps for our business.” - Justin Wyatt, Vice President of Primary Research at NBC Universal.

Engineered for complexity, scale and speed, Pulsar’s Big Data engine is built on Apache Cassandra and Solr. This enables Pulsar TRAC to store and index multiple data points besides keyword mentions, including social graphs, interest graphs, demographics and behavioural data.

Our Chief Innovation Officer, Francesco D’Orazio, explains what drove the design of Pulsar TRAC:

“There are more than 200 social media monitoring tools on the market, and yet none of them allowed us to do proper research on social media data. And that’s why we built Pulsar TRAC. Whereas all traditional social media monitoring platforms on the market only look at the content of the conversations, we found a massive opportunity in indexing and analysing everything around it. This means very Big Data. But with Pulsar TRAC we can now process all that and still deliver on the real-time user experience which is key to exploiting Big Data’s real potential: finding out what you don’t know you don’t know.”

Our CEO, Andrew Needham, comments:

“With Pulsar TRAC we are delivering on our vision of social intelligence for brands by helping companies put consumers at the heart of their business, giving them a real time, in depth and holistic view of their customers. Having doubled in size in the past 12 months with offices in New York, Singapore and Hong Kong, Pulsar TRAC is the first in a series of planned product releases from Face which marks an evolution of the business from a research agency to a technology driven insight consultancy.”

The Pulsar TRAC platform, designed to deliver real-time insights for global brands and agencies, is now available at www.pulsarplatform.com. Please contact us to get more information or request a demo.

Why Market Researchers Should Learn To Code

The internet and digital technologies are an integral part of the modern world – and as marketers and researchers, we are immersed in this space. We’re helping brands communicate effectively in social media, we’re creating new digital products and understanding online customer experiences – and we’re doing it this through online communities, social media insight and mobile research apps.

But there’s a problem

The dirty little secret is, how far does the industry really understand the technological ground it walks upon? Research firms mostly hire people with degrees in psychology, social sciences and humanities. Don’t get me wrong, these are great subjects and give us a lot of insight into human behaviour and culture. Problem is, it leaves us only observers of the technological world – not hackers and makers.

As a result, innovation in the research industry is not keeping up with the technology:

“We lag behind. Sometimes by years – in the case of harnessing communities, we worked out how to do it just as the ‘community’ model was dissolving online into networks. In the case of gamification, we were a bit quicker, only a year or so behind the overall hype. Intellectually speaking, research is largely a distant, rather slow cousin of the tech business.”
[Tom Ewing, Blackbeard Blog, 22 March]

A quick test: how many of these tech acronyms do you recognise?

  • API
  • TCP/IP
  • CSS
  • W3C
  • SaaS
  • FOMO

That last one’s a bit of a trick: it’s not a technology but the acronym Fear Of Missing Out – or #fomo, as teen Twitter natives would put it. And “missing out” is exactly what the research industry is doing if we don’t really understand the technical ground our digital world is built on.

Here’s one of those building blocks: all the information encoded within a tweet and accessible through the Twitter API. If you want to innovate in social media research, you’ve got to know what options you have to play with. But how many in the industry do?

tweet code

Map Of A Twitter Status Object by Raffi Kikorian (@raffi)

What can research companies do about it? Hiring a creative technologist is a good start, as we said in our “Emerging Roles in Research” blog post a year ago. But as ethnographers we have another tool up our sleeves: it’s called participant observation. Learning by doing. Learning to code, and learning to build basic web technologies ourselves. Sound scary? It shouldn’t be.

Minibar Codemaker

A couple of weeks ago, Linda Maruta and I (Jess Owens) went to Codemaker, run by the UK tech meet-up MiniBar. In just eight hours this course covered:

  • A condensed history of computing and the web
  • A lesson in tech jargon – from API & OS to Python, Ruby and MySQL
  • How the modern web works – the technologies behind Twitter, Facebook and Google
  • Mix & Mash your favourite websites
  •  How to make beautiful web sites with HTML and CSS
  • JavaScript and JQuery
  • Deconstruct your own web app (intro to Agile principles)
  • Make your own web app

It was a pretty fast-moving course, and it helped to have some familiarity with coding already. Linda’s our Digital Project Manager and works with our developer team day in, day out. I work in the social media team – and both of us went into the course knowing some HTML, a bit of CSS and our Twitter API from our elbows.

Nonetheless, by mid-afternoon we were doing far more than we’d ever expected – mashing up Google Maps data with real-time geolocated Twitter information and public datasets. It was awesome.

A course like this won’t make anybody a fully-fledged programmer in a day – instructor Peter Brownell is great but he’s not a magician. But it will leave you knowing much more about how web technologies work, and collaborating better with developers on social data projects in future. That’s worth the entry price alone.

But more than that, this course left me excited.  I’ve been friends with programmers for years, but somehow coding has never seemed like something I could really do – it was just too big a body of knowledge to learn. But this course changed that: it showed me how to start. Best of all, it gave us all the tools – JQuery examples, JSFiddle to play with the code live, and geodata via Google Fusion Tables - to go away and keep playing, and experimenting, and learning.


Another way

While I was writing this post I realised: there are other ways to learn these things. Several of my FACE colleagues have next-generation Masters degrees marrying the social with the technological, from programmes that including courses in coding and building digital media alongside more standard soc sci methods. And it’s not just the social media team I’m talking about here – FACE qual researchers have studied these courses too. Think Masters degrees such as Advanced Interactive Technology Design (Nottingham), Digital Media (Goldsmiths) and Digital Humanities (UCL). The academic training may only have been out there in the last 5 years, but there’s a new generation of graduates coming through with some very next-generation skills.

And these are skills the research industry is crying out for. Let’s not bemoan a ‘talent shortage’, let’s get out there building links, speaking at universities, providing work experience and sharing research technology. That’s how you hire the next generation of researchers.


Jess is Social Media Research Manager at FACE. Check out her other blog posts on digital culture and technology here, or share your thoughts on this article with us at @FaceCocreation


Digital gets physical: Thoughts from SXSW

SXSW Interactive, the annual tech and digital media conference in Austin, Texas, has been a fertile hunting ground (and a spring getaway) for Facers for a few years now. By day we consume ideas in five jam-packed sessions – by night, cheap margaritas and Texan steak.

Last year we struck inspiration gold with MIT Media Lab’s presentation on mobile self-ethnography – which Chief Innovation Officer Francesco D’Orazio has been developing into a research tool for “reality mining” through your mobile phone.

This year these are the stories that captured my attention:

4 big trends to watch

  1. 3D printers and Maker culture
  2. The sharing economy: AirBnB, Uber, and Sidecar
  3. Interfaces: haptic, gestural and visual
  4. Augmented reality, and the rise of ‘Glassholes’

SXSW was really physical this year. Very few sessions were on online-only topics – we’ve talked enough about Twitter and Facebook et al. Instead of Google Plus, the California behemoths presented Google Glass and Google[X], their “moonshot factory” designed to get you into space. MakerBot launched their Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner which allows you to take any physical object, scan it, and create a digital file (without any CAD skills required at all) — and then print the item again and again on a MakerBot Replicator.

[Image credit: MakerBot, via The Verge]

Physical ownership was hit another blow by the buzz around renting- and sharing-based services such as AirBnB (places to stay), Uber and Sidecar (transport). It’s the rise of service over product and renting over purchase: what matters is meeting a need as efficiently as possible, without surplus resources (hotel rooms, cars) that either cost too much or go unused much of the time. There are a lot of positives in this – the focus of AirBnB’s session was on sharing, social relationships and trust. Lots of great insights into doing “social business” in this write-up here.

Meanwhile the most exciting presentations and displays were those looking at the question of just how people can connect to digital experiences and information. The one with real wow factor was Revel, a  haptic (touch-based) technology from Olivier Bau of Disney Research. This offered the deeply extraordinary possibility of altering the user’s tactile perception of surfaces based on tapping into the electrostatic signals sent within our skin and nerves. I loved this for how it revealed the human body as already electronic – a truly cyborg technology.

There was also a lot of buzz around Leap Motion’s gestural control interface, soon to go on widespread sale for only $99. This allows for very natural, intuitive hand-based interaction with objects on screen. Unlike the XBox Kinect, which requires big gestures and whole-body movement, the Leap Motion is sensitive to subtle hand movements and can capture the movement of each of 10 fingers indepedently. Pure Minority Report. Finally, in the gaming expo, the Oculus Rift headset was held up as “the holy grail of gaming” for the deeply immersive experiences it allows developers and creatives to share.

Meanwhile on Monday 11th Google demoed the slicker-looking Glass, their “smart specs” designed to bring both the recording and the information aspects of a smartphone to a heads-up display. Sergey Brin sought to claim this was less distracting than gazing down at your phone all the time – but SXSW was not convinced by the future of total surveillance and continuous partial attention he proffered.

Word of the week: “Glassholes”, coined to capture all the ways Google Glass is going to mess up interpersonal interaction. While some have observed that the Glass backlash is functioning as a locus for all our fears about technology, from web cookies to digital-ADHD, it’s still true that Google’s presentation on the Monday didn’t do much to reassure people. Here are 35 arguments against it.

[Image credit: Engadget, via AndroidDoes.net]

2 other things worth noting:

  1. The rise of Android (or Samsung’s mega marketing budget)
  2. Vine, Snapchat and micromedia

The big topic of discussion: Has SXSW jumped the shark?

“SXSW is the 21st-century equivalent of a medieval market town, just with more horseshit. It’s an orgy of capitalism, an unrestrained, unselfconscious celebration of sales, marketing, branding, and “gamification.” Even the dumbest of memes have been recruited in the service of sales. Grumpy Cat is here, and she wants you to buy Friskies.”
[South Buy Southwest: At America's Biggest Tech Conference, It's All About the Sell - Nick Baumann, Mother Jones]

I saw Grumpy Cat in the Mashable tent with fans queuing up to be photographed with her. This was deeply absurd – and she looked furious.

[Image credit: Buzzfeed, gofwd.tumblr.com]

The Onion’s parodies were also bang on (well, they did give a keynote last year…)

Meanwhile I tweeted with friends back in the UK on the hashtag #FakeSXSW. Lunchtime margaritas and marketing spin meant the line between real products, prototypes, “vaporware”  and “design fiction” got pretty fuzzy. At one point, I’m sure I attended a panel called The End Of Reality

But what was it really all about?

The convergence of digital and physical.

Interfaces are about how we connect our physical, sensory bodies to digital displays. Augmented reality seeks a seamless meshing of the two. The sharing economy is about using digital and social technology to help us better manage our property. And MakerBot’s 3D scanners and printers give us a technology that can digitise the physical, digitally manipulate it – and print this new hybrid object back out into physical reality.

These are ideas that tech theorists have been hashing around for a couple of years. Nathan Jurgenson’s essay on ‘digital dualism‘ (2011) is important reading –  he argues that the belief that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real” is fundamentally a false dichotomy. Instead the two are deeply interlinked and there is nothing “unreal” about our actions online. Last year’s much-discussed panel The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Digital Devices (2012) was also key for providing a space to talk about this “eruption of the digital into the physical“, and the resultant hybrid visual culture when there are as many computers sensing and measuring the world as people.

In more pragmatic business terms:

Every business is a digital business now, or should be. Your “Head of Digital” shouldn’t just be a 30-something creative technologist – it’s the job of your CEO to lead on these challenges and opportunities.

Also, what exactly is a non-digital advertising agency? Marketing agency? Research agency?

Finally, it’s a clarion call to rethink and sort out “consumer touchpoints”. Seamless web and in-store purchasing. Fluent digital-physical branding. No mis-information from store staff that’s contradicted by the store website (or a quick Google from your phone while you argue with them…) We’re getting there – online shopping can be delivered in-store, in-store shopping can be delivered to your home, and fashion brands like Burberry and Topshop connect the catwalk, their websites and their stores with growing confidence.

What does this mean for market research?

First, that these are the consumer trends, clients’ business challenges, and technologies we need to get our heads round. It’s not just for people working in social media research or cutting edge mobile ethnography – even if you work on quant trackers, there’s something in here that affects the questions you should be asking and how you should be reaching people to get those answers.

But really, I go to SXSW to get perspectives beyond the industry. I’m 27. Am I going to be working in something called a “market research agency” in 10 years time? (In 5 years? In three?) My clients are still going to need someone to help them navigate consumers and communications technology – but are they gong to look to “market research” per se to do that? Quite.

There’s something interesting going on between marketing, and media, and technology – it’s a difficult and unsolved problem, how to marry these three. Even (or especially) the most ridiculous parts of SXSW – they still give me a read on this. That’s why I go. Perhaps next year it’s time to pull together a panel and offer a point of view…