Sunny Hundal, Adrian McShane and Paul Gesiak at Hacks/Hackers London

 by Martin Belam, 3 April 2012

Last week was the monthly Hacks/Hackers London meet-up hosted by Joanna Geary and Jonathan Richards. I’ve already posted my notes from the opening talk about Hailo. Here is what I jotted down from the rest of the evening. - Sunny Hundal

Sunny Hundal introduced us to, a website which tracks ten news organisations in the UK. It tracks theirs stories and rates them by the social media “ripples” they create. Sunny argued that you might not necessarily want to trawl through loads of social media feeds, and this was a one-stop shop to see what was trending amongst UK news. It reminded me a little of Top 5 News, Benji Lanyado & Matt Andrews’ project to track the most read across UK news outlets to give you a quick headline snapshot, and of course, my own defunct Chipwrapper service.

Kernel Mag ebooks - Adrian McShane

Adrian McShane was slightly thwarted by the Shooting Star’s internet connection in trying to demo his product - a tool to rapidly convert blog content into ebooks. Built for The Kernel magazine, the idea is to take some of the messiness out of ebook production, and provide subscribers with a neat download of a week’s content packaged up for them.

Having produced a couple of Kindle ebooks myself - compilations of notes from London IA, Hacks/Hackers and a best of 2011 anthology - I know that the process is incredibly simple, but plagued with lots of niggly details around parsing CMS-driven HTML. Adrian demoed his system to me after the event, and it was - thankfully - very similar to some work I’ve been doing with Dan Catt at the Guardian to use our API to make the production of Guardian ebooks easier. I say thankfully because it means we must both be heading in the right direction.

Personally I’ve tried hard to like The Kernel. I definitely think there is a gap in the market for some considered UK based analysis of the tech scene. Whether The Kernel is the shape that fits that gap in the market, I’m not so sure.

“How information spreads throughout social media” - Paul Gesiak at Hacks/Hackers London

The second main talk of the evening was by Paul Gesiak of DataSift, looking at patterns of conversations in social media. His enthusiasm for the data shone through - at one point he said he had never imagined he would ever be able to get hold of these kind of data sets about human conversation, especially not ones with “3,000 tweets per second”.

He showed some analysis of the main things that people talked about on Twitter, and rather depressingly concluded that since the most popular topics appeared to be food and entertainment, we hadn’t moved on very far as a species since the Roman maxim of “bread and circuses”. He suggested that the discussions of weather and beverages were most likely to be the British contribution to the global chatter.

He also showed that the number of people tweeting as Jedi knights and warriors vastly outnumbered tweets from the Sith, suggesting the Force is probably currently in balance.

Paul Gesiak used the case of RIM’s CEOs resigning as an example of how an event sparks conversations on Twitter, and illustrated how the news spread across nodes in the Twitter network. He also showed some graphs which also featured RIM’s share price mapped against the sentiment of the conversation. He suggested that it might be possible to draw some links between them, but personally I found this rather unconvincing - I’m not sure the graph proved anything much more than that “when something happens to a big company, it affects the share price, and people want to discuss it”.

I’d have liked to have seen a bit more about how journalists might be able to use this real-time data to track down stories. Nicola Hughes has spoken before about using social media as an investigative tool.

My favourite thing?

At one point Paul was pointing at a graph and explained that he got to the next slide by “increasing the temporal resolution”. If that isn’t a line of dialogue waiting to happen in Doctor Who, I don’t know what is...


The next Hacks/Hackers London is on April 24th, one day after the next London IA, details of which have just been announced.

Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks brings together notes from 16 talks, including those from Martin Rosenbaum, Stephen Grey, Alastair Dant, Scott Byrne-Fraser and Wendy Grossman. It looks at topics of interest to journalists and programers alike, including freedom of information, processing big data sets to tell stories, social activism hack camps, the future of interactive technologies, and using social media to cover your tracks - or uncover those of somebody else.
Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks for Kindle is £1.14.

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