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It’s an Innovation Geekfest! AT&T’s Tech Showcase

On Thursday, November 5, I attended the AT&T Technology Showcase in San Francisco. The Tech Showcase presents some of the latest cool inventions coming from AT&T Labs. Imagine a highly professional, well-resourced Maker Faire. AT&T calls the showcase, “The Art of the Possible”, stressing the experimental nature of this stuff.

While I’m not actually a geek, there were some cool things there. And notice the iPhone usage in these inventions.

For easy reference, I’ve included some anchor links below:

iPhone Microprojector

AT&T iPhone microprojectorThis was really cool. It’s a device that lets you broadcast video and images on any surface. You insert your iPhone into the microprojector and point it where you want to display. It uses three-color lasers to display images. With lasers, the image is always in focus, regardless of distance from the display surface.

The inventor stressed the medical uses of it. He showed how a brain scan would look. Doctors can view results on-the-fly, on any surface. This gives them the ability to react much more quickly to medical conditions.

But another guy watching this and I both had the same thought: this would be great for business. Sales presentations held on your iPhone. It also seems like something that work at trade shows.

And how about watching videos through your iPhone? Not on the small iPhone screen, but broadcast on a nearby wall or a screen in the back of a car seat? That would be pretty slick.

iPhone as Voice-Powered TV Remote

For the ultimate in minimizing the steps needed to find a show: the voice-powered TV remote. Here’s how I saw it work:

  • Say something like “basketball this evening”
  • System searches a show schedule for “basketball” instances
  • It’s intelligent enough to understand “evening” as a set of defined hours
  • Serves up a list of programs that match the voice-entered search
  • Pick the one you want, watch or record it

To use this, you need an Internet Protocol (IP) TV. For a demo, see MG Siegler’s YouTube video, taken as part of his TechCrunch coverage:

Ad Hoc Social Networking

Under the research initiative, “Just in Time Mobile Services”, is this wild concept.You ask total strangers to provide you with information about some location in which you’re interested. Here’s a process flow:

Ad Hoc Social Networking process flow

Say there’s some place you want to go to, but it can be hit-or-miss there. Maybe too crowded, not enough people, delay in some event, etc. You reach out this Ad Hoc Social Network. The Network system finds people who are in that location. They agree to answer a question. You check out the ratings for those people, select the one with a sufficient rating. You then ask them about the location. After they give you an answer, you determine whether the answer was good, and rate them.

All of this done anonymously.

Key here are the ratings. Your rely on those with better online reputations. As for incentives to participate, maybe there’s some lessons in foursquare (points, badges, mayors).

Internet Protocol TV

AT&T offers a digital TV content  delivery service called U-verse. It uses Internet Protocol to deliver signals, and competes with Comcast and other cable providers, as well as satellite TV providers. There are some cool experiments developed for U-verse, including a few they aren’t ready to make public.

Here are some of the cool things they’ve done in the Lab for IPTV:

Use iPhone pictures to find programs: The monthly U-verse guide provides information on upcoming programs, including photos from those programs. Use the iPhone to snap a picture of a program. Send it to the application in the  IPTV. The TV matches the picture from the iPhone to a program, and shows a list of upcoming episodes. Record the ones you want.

Twitter: Add a scrolling ticker to the bottom of your screen. You when this would be good? When BIG stories break that capture the nation’s attention. They invariably have # hashtags. Have a running ticker of hashtags across the bottom of your screen while watching live coverage from a new station.

Throw media objects from phone to TV: Say you have a video on your iPhone 3GS. With this app, you simply “throw” it to the IPTV. The video will be loaded to the TV, and begins to play. If you had an IP stereo, this would work for music.

FamilyMap: Want to know where your kids are? This app tracks the signals for your family’s phones, and plots their locations on a map. A FamilyMap. I’m going to remember this for my kids in about a decade.

Telehealth Remote Monitoring

At the World Innovation Forum, futurist Paul Saffo said that sensors are the BIG next technology wave. The telehealth remote monitoring project shows one way this will be true.

At the Technology Showcase, one Labs researcher showed off a sensor that tracks the foot signature of people (“smart slippers”). With four sensors in a slipper, it tracks the unique foot signature of an individual. The sensors will measure the footstrike, and provide data that can identify if something is off. If something is off, family and care providers can be alerted.

AT&T has a vision to develop sensors that can track a number of health related conditions. I took a picture of a poster that gives a high level view of their direction. Notice the age demographic of the couple under “You” to the left of the picture:

AT&T Telehealth Remote Monitoring

This is an area of growth, not just for AT&T, but for the technology industry overall. The New York Times just ran a story about this topic, Watch the Walk and Prevent a Fall. The article noted:

Researchers are beginning to apply the digital tools of low-cost wireless sensors in carpets, clothing and rooms to monitor an older person’s walking and activity. The continuous measurement and greater precision afforded by simple computing devices, researchers say, promise to deliver new insights on risk factors and tailored prevention measures.

If The Graduate were remade today, the man at the graduation party would whisper “sensors” in Dustin Hoffman’s ear.

GeoCasting

Finally, I took in the GeoCast demo. What is GeoCasting? It allows you to communicate between mobile handsets without the need for a cell or data network.

Sort of like an updated version of walkie talkies.

This is essentially a very localized peer-to-peer way of communicating. It relies on sensing nearby phones. The use case demo I saw related to public safety. Imagine there is a disturbance of some type on a college campus. School authorities would have access to a broadcast application, which would localize instructions to students on the campus. If you were inside a building where the disturbance was occurring, you’d get one set of instructions, perhaps telling you the safe way out. If you were on a different part of campus, away from the problem, you’d get instrucitons to stay in your room and lock it down.

GeoCasting is an innovative way to localize information out to mobile handset holders. One could see interesting commercial applications for this, such as retailers sending messages to consumers nearby.

Good stuff coming from the AT&T Labs guys. Look forward to some of this becoming commercial. I may seriously have to get U-verse TV when it becomes available in my neighborhood.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 110609

From the home office along the former Berlin Wall in Germany…

#1: McAfee: Bad practice of #e20 evangelists = Declare war on the enterprise. Presents a bad msg to corporate buyers. #e2conf

#2: Frappaolo: His work finds that age has little to do with #e20 adoption. Creative thinkers span all ages. Org culture is the issue. #e2conf

#3: Yup, SharePoint 2010 is a platform: Microsoft To Offer Application Marketplace In SharePoint 2010 http://ow.ly/zYM2 via @rww #e20

#4: Google Wave product mgr. Best way to use #googlewave is for collaborative activities, not wholesale replace email. #e2conf

#5: RT @Brioneja: Google’s Wave Might Find Its Real Home Inside Company Servers http://bit.ly/2VJkxP #collaboration #software

#6: For #innovation, conflict is good. Conflict is right. Conflict works. Read @AndreaMeyer‘s post to find out why: http://ow.ly/za7v

#7: Good take @zeroinfluencer: All User Centric Design is modeled around the ego. Good software design keeps that in mind. http://bit.ly/39gim3

#8: Gov 2.0 – City of Manor Taps Citizens’ Ideas for Improvement (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/4A1hNc #gov20 #innovation

#9: RT @zee RT @jestei I find twitter #lists weirdly, narcissisticly fascinating; they provide a rare window into how others would define you

#10: http://twitpic.com/noz7d – Tonight’s Jack O’ Lantern is a wink emoticon ;) My 5 yo’s choice. Future geek.

Twitter to Clean Up Trending Topic Searches – Is This that Reputation Thing?

On Twitter’s blog, they announced an initiative to clean up the spammy tweets that often appear for trending topics. As described from the post:

Today we’re starting to experiment with improvements to trends that will help you find more relevant tweets. Specifically, we’re working to show higher quality results for trend queries by returning tweets that are more useful.

MG Siegler over on Techcrunch and Jolie O’Dell of ReadWriteWeb wonder how this will be accomplished. My guess? Twitter is starting some sort of reputation score for accounts. The lowest-of-the-low accounts in terms of reputation will get shunted aside.

For background on this reputation thing, see a couple earlier posts on this subject:

Included in that second link is this quote from a Rafe Needleman post in May 2009:

Twitter Search will also get a “reputation” ranking system soon, Jayaram told me. When you do a search on a “trending” topic–a topic that is so big it gets its own link in the Twitter.com sidebar–Twitter will take into account the reputation of the person who wrote each tweet and rank the search results in part based on that.

Curious to see how this one plays out.

How Should Tweets Be Ranked in Search Engine Results?

Tweet searchAnyone remember when Loic LeMeur had the temerity to suggest Twitter rank its search results by the number of followers people have? His post, with 109 comments and reaction from Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble and many others, clearly struck a nerve.

Fast forward to the past couple weeks. Both Microsoft Bing and Google announced deals to provide tweets in search results. Let me say that again: Google and Bing will be providing tweet search results!

Bing’s version is the first out the gate. In light of the earlier brouhaha, this may come across as insensitive…but I have to ask:

How should tweets be ranked in Bing and Google search results?

I hope your answer isn’t, “I wouldn’t.” Because that’s contrary to what made Google such a global powerhouse used by billions every year. And why Microsoft is working hard to increase Bing’s market share. Google and Bing built their business by presenting search results based on the authority of websites. This system of authority (e.g. PageRank) makes the results relevant to users.

So what about running searches for tweets? Should their presentation be utterly devoid of any authority ranking? Does it make sense to just show the latest tweet containing a given term? After all, that would simply be imitating what Summize (aka Twitter Search) does.

First, a good question to ask is, why do people want to search tweets? How does this differ from web search?

Why Are You Searching Tweets?

To my mind, there are three use cases where people will search for tweets rather than search for websites:

  1. Find people
  2. Find latest on a subject that won’t show up in search engines yet (lack of indexing, lack of authority)
  3. Jump into conversations on something

Find people: You’re interested in a topic, and want to find others who can either improve your knowledge on it or with whom you want to connect. This is using Twitter as people search. The model for all of here is, you are what you tweet. It’s what makes you findable to others.

In this case, my sense is that people will have an desire to find those who would have the most authority on a given topic.

Find latest on a subject: The appearance of an article or blog post in the search engines can take a while. That contributes to the challenge of finding the latest. But the more pressing issue is the display of new articles in the search results. A good article or post on a subject, such as Enterprise 2.0, is likely not going to be ranked very high in the Google or Bing search results. No one links to the article yet, and it competes against a bunch of other incumbent articles in the search indexes.

If something shows up on the third page of Google’s search results, does it really exist?

This issue is even more pernicious for current events. The San Francisco Bay Bridge has been closed for several days now. It seems every estimate about when it will reopen has been wrong, meaning we all have to scramble to figure out our commute for the next day. To get the latest on the Bay Bridge, I searched Google, including the aggregate news results. Everything was too old when I did that, reflecting previous pronouncements. I needed what people knew right now. I went to Twitter, and found tweets that told me the latest status. Very helpful.

To find the latest on topics, I think there is a role for leveraging some sort of authority. People who have established credibility can be good first filters on what’s relevant and useful. For Enterprise 2.0, what is Dion Hinchliffe tweeting? For the Bay Bridge, I most trusted the KTVU tweet I saw.

Jump into conversations: This is Twitter as water cooler. You know something is going on. But how do you connect with people? Searches are good for this. Hash tags for conferences or big stories. Take the recent fraudulent #balloonboy story. It definitely captivated everyone. But even now, you’ll see tweets like this:

Watch top quality streaming Movie -> Up here http://cli.gs/dpNT5N Make $ From Home #mileycomeback #balloonboy

What is that? That’s someone taking a popular hash tag and polluting the search stream with spam. Again, a case where adding some authority to the tweet search rankings will help.

Tweet Authority Criteria

Keep in mind that “authority” is used in the context of Google and Bing searches. Of course web searches miss many authorities on subjects, but they work pretty well for giving relevant information.

I categorize the bases of authority in three buckets:

  1. Relevancy of tweet stream to a subject
  2. Crowdsourced signals of authority
  3. Effectiveness in providing relevant content

As a point of reference, Bing’s initial measure of relevance was reported to be the number of followers a person has. Let’s look at the three categories of authority.

Relevancy of Tweet Stream to a Subject

The first basis for authority should be…does someone tend to post about a given topic? Frequency of posts are a good marker that a person has something of interest to share. If someone is going to be deemed an authority on a subject, I’d expect a fair number of tweets related to it.

One twist that would make this better. A semantic basis for linking terms. For example, if some one searches on Foo Fighters, consider people whose tweet streams include posts about “music” frequently as having higher authority.

Crowdsourced Signals of Authority

What does the crowd think of a given person or tweet? Let’s start with a single tweet. If someone posts something on a given topic, and it gets retweeted a lot, that should count hugely in terms of its authority for a given topic.

OK, now for the general stats. How many followers does someone have? Yes, it’s getting gamed. So the presence of a high number of followers isn’t an automatic definition for authority. But it does have relevance in constructing authority.

The benefit of computing this for users is that the authority of those who follow a person can be an input into his or her own authority.

Next… Twitter Lists. Number of followers is not the end of the story. Lists have two characteristics that can be used to compute authority. First is the number of Lists one is on. Tim O’Reilly is on over 2,500 Lists. No surprise – he really made ‘web 2.0′ ubiquitous in our culture.

But an even better indicator of authority is embedded in Lists. How does the crowd characterize a person? Those Lists are valuable for granting higher authority for a given topic.

Effectiveness in Providing Relevant Content

When someone tweets, how do people react? Robert Scoble has a good take from his blog post:

  1. Number of retweets of that tweet
  2. Number of favorites of that tweet
  3. Number of inbound links to that tweet
  4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search

I particularly like that #4 item – number of clicks. Once these tweets are in the Google and Bing search results, the clicks can be measured. These are powerful bases for measuring someone’s authority.

I’d add a measure for how often a shared link is clicked; say bit.ly’s click information. While the actual number of clicks tracked by bit.ly is wrong, let’s assume it’s wrong in a similar fashion for everyone. So the bit.ly clicks counts can give a measure of relative effectiveness in providing content.

What Do You Think?

That’s my somewhat exhaustive description of inputs for ranking tweets in Google and Bing search results. There’s more that would be needed. I can think of incorporating some element of time decay in how tweets are presented as well. But this post is long enough.

What do you think? How would you rank tweets in the big search engines?

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