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Viewdle – social face recognition – interview with founder Laurent Gil

February 17, 2011 5 comments

I’ve just come off the phone from chatting with Laurent Gil, the founder of Viewdle who have created some revolutionary patented face recognition technology. If you read my blog early today, you will have seen their launch video (it’s shown again below).

I asked Laurent whether the video was just a big budget ad creating a vision – but with few links to reality. Laurent said: “Definitely not. What you see is not science fiction. This is the first application of our face recognition technology. Even on the relatively small processors on mobile phones, we can recognise a face in 300ms and then go off to the cloud

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to get more information. It’s just like you see on the video.”

“It’s not a big budget advert either – we’re a start-up! We got together with some cool guys we knew in LA, explained what our technology does and they shot it. It was shot with HD cameras – so you might not see the same definition on your phone quite yet – but the rest is here now with Viewdle’s technology.”

I probed further to see if he could explain why this video had had such an impact on me and many others – the leap in techology is a bit scary. Laurent said: “We have some very serious brains behind this technology. We have 8 PhDs and 30 staff just working on visual analysis. We have a total of 65 engineers. Our team work in Palo Alto, South America and in the Ukraine.”

I’d read on the LA Times blog that Viewdle’s technology “has its roots in technology created for the surveillance-happy government of the former Soviet Union”. Laurent said; “No – that’s not right. People like to say that – but all my staff are much younger than me and from way after the cold war days. The technology came out of clever people in maths and science in Kiev – but out team is around the world now. Our business is consumer facing – and we plan to apply this exciting technology to social media, not surveillance.”

Laurent explained that the technology works on a “Faceprint” that is generated by the software – typically from Facebook albums and photos that you have tagged and have access to. On the phone the super fast comparison and matching is based around this “FacePrint”.

Laurent talked me through the broad vision of Viewdle: “We are getting social at the point of capture – and creating the links to your friends and family. We are closely integrated to Facebook – and the generation that loves social media. Young people want to take and share pictures now. They don’t want to have to go and tag on the desktop. Our technology tags, routes and shares instantly for you – it’s a photo messaging tool.”

They’ve got some heavy hitter supporters in terms of technology and finance. People like Qualcomm, Blackberry and Texas Instrument. They’ve also announced today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a Software Development Kit (SDK) – so he said: “expect to see applications on your phone using this technology by the end of this year.”

I asked about whether it would be hitting the iPhone soon. Laurent said: “Apple acquired Polar Rose last year. They are a face recognition company – but we believe that what we have developed to work actually on the phone is very different. I suppose you could say we are Apple competitors.”

Throughout the conversation, Laurent talked up the idea of Viewdle being for “friends and family” and that “it is an extension of what young people are doing already on Facebook.”

I asked about the “Big P” that hangs over this – Privacy! Laurent said: “We’re focussed on being consumer and social. We work within that environment – and so we recognise and track the Privacy Settings in Facebook. If you are sharing your pictures with someone – then Viewdle can use them to help you.”

I checked how this would work with the SDK – allowing other organisations to build applications. He said: “We are very careful in this area. We know it is sensitive. We are going to make sure that there are the restrictions at the API level so that you can access the ‘Faceprint’ of only those people you connect with and if they allow access.”

There is no doubt that this is a fantastic bit of technology – and that people using social media will have their lives enriched. I spent many years as a professional photographer – I understand the passion to share images. It’s ground breaking – and the Viewdle video gives you a clear view of how that works on a social level. It’s great.

Personally, I am not so worried about privacy – it is ultimately an individual’s choice what they chose to share. I’m an entrepreneur – and I believe these exciting new technologies will find many great uses. However, I do think that Viewdle’s video – with its technology “here today” – will fuel the debate about the “time bomb” of what the Facebook generation chose to share about their life. The “Digital Dossier” or the “Digital Footprint”.

Reading the article on Technology Review – I was struck by one of the comments that focussed on the Orwellian implications:

The amazing thing is that Big Brother is being built without a penny in taxes. We just buy all the gadgets, voluntarily, that enable it.

I’m not so worried about Big Brother. It’s the simple things in life and relationships for me. I can’t see a future where my son will scratch his head and say to someone he thinks that he might have met before – “Do I know you?” He’ll probably know so much more (even at first contact) than he would ever want to know!

Visualising Who You Know – Cool vs. Scary – Impressed vs. Concerned

February 17, 2011 9 comments

I just checked my LinkedIn home page – and one of my connections had commented on a video by a new business called Viewdle. Take a look at it below:-

Absolutely brilliant, mind-boggling video. Before I get on to the rest of the blog, here were the first two comments on my LinkedIn page about it:

Dr. Kim (Kyllesbech Larsen) “This is so cool that I get goosebumps (or am I scared?)”

Tim Lewis “Agreed Kim! I saw this at MWC and was impressed but concerned in equal measure”

I created this blog to track my journey of understanding the value of Personal Networks – and how to visualise them. Watching this video today gave me a fantastic glimpse

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in to the future – and I’m not sure how comfortable it made me feel! It leaps several levels about the visualisation of Personal Networks I had imagined.

One of the first thoughts I had was – “wouldn’t that be great built in to your glasses – so you never have that ‘they know me, but I’m so embarrassed I can’t remember their name.’ moment again!” However, the more I think about it – the phrase “beauty is only skin deep” comes to mind. Do I really want to know so much about everyone I meet? I’d like to judge them by their beauty or their “Digital Dossier”.

Our family are moving to a new city – and my wife and I walked out in Bath yesterday chatting about the future. One of the discussions was about out 13 year old son – and what he would be like when he was 18 and living in the city. I said that he’d be sneaking in to the house late at night and playing games with his mates on the Playstation 3. We both said – “no – it will be a Playstation 5 by then”. What will that beast be able to do – technology moves on at such a pace.

I hope in 5 years time I will meet people I know nothing about – and build a relationship “unwrapping the layers of the onion”. I’m worried that this might not be possible – everyone I meet will have an FBI style security briefing/”Digital Dossier” attached to them that will pop up on my iPhone 10! Anyone out there with a comment to re-assure me??? Off to check out Viewdle …

What impression am I making? Who do I know? What do I know about them? … and many more questions – PART 1

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

As regular readers will have noticed, I’ve moved my blog posts to a daily frequency. I was concerned that I’d find enough to write about – but in the last two weeks I’ve been struggling to filter buckets of ideas and prioritise topics.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview the co-founder of a new service called MyWebCareer – and expected that to be the sole topic of today’s post. However, today has seen the launch of a new Personal Relationship Management (PRM) service called Connected – and I’ve decided to feature both together in a two-part series!

The cross over of the services has given me much food for thought – so I will review

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separately and round up with conclusions in the second part.

As you can see from the title of this post, when you want to assess your Personal Network – there are a lot of questions to be answered. Both of these services provide answers – but in subtly different ways.

If Connected is offering PRM – then MyWebCareer is a PFM (Personal Footprint Manager). As well as test driving the MyWebCareer service, I also had a chance to chat to one of the co-founders, Nip Zalavadia. Nip filled me in on how the business was started and on the idea of “footprints”. It’s an intriguing story…

Nip and the co-founders come from a very different world. They have “experience in developing mission critical solutions for US Federal Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and Forensics clients.”. Nip pointed out: “Our expertise comes from one of the very few areas where Government practices are far in advance of the private sector. Footprints are the low level traces that people leave behind – and in our former employment used to help us find criminals.” The premise of MyWebCareer is that they can work for YOU to help understand the “footprint” you leave when you are on-line – and what future employers might find out about you.

To use the service, you grant MyWebCareer access to your social media acccounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) – and to supplement this they analyse other public data from places like Stack Overflow (particularly relevant to programmers) and trawling the “Deep Web”.

It all sounds rather sinister – and when I looked through their review of “My Score Guidance”, some of the observations were quite “spooky”. The information collated was surprisingly thorough – and their conclusions on the ball. It reminded me of the very popular YouTube video on privacy issues – and in particular ordering a pizza in the future.

Nip’s seen the video – but he and the team at MyWebCareer approach this area in a very positive way. For them it’s not about getting people frightened about what’s on-line, it’s about working on the side of his customers to help them understand how a current (or future) employer might view them.

I logged on to the service – and tested it out. The linking to each of the social media networks was very smooth – and the “Dashboard” produced was pretty informative.

MyWebCareer produces an innovative scoring method – with a benchmark and grading for different key areas. Nip explained to me that “this number is produced using sophisticated link analysis, visualization, entity extraction and semantics. In the US the number produced would be a very a familiar scoring method to anyone who tracked their credit ratings – a number called an FICO.” For those not in the US, including me, FICO is short for the Fair Isaac Corporation – a public company that provides credit scoring.

The company has a nice line from one of their Twitter fans “If @Klout and @LinkedIn had a baby, his name would be a new #Startup called @MyWebCareer.” It’s a cool description – and not far off the mark.

The really good things about the service – and is uncommon in many start-ups – is that they’ve thought through the next steps. If you’ve followed the stories here and elsewhere on LinkedIn InMaps launch – there have been many comments along the lines of “that looks great – but what does it mean? What should I do with it?”. Well MyWebCareer is ready with the next steps and answers to your questions. After it has created your score, you can then get a comprehensive breakdown of how the score was collated – and most importantly what you can do to improve it.

I’d encourage you to give MyWebCareer a try. I reckon that it took 30 minutes for me to grant access to services and review the findings. Time well spent – it certainly gave me some pointers. This Beta version is free – and the pro version will be on its way with more gizmos (and a moderate price tag soon). If you are serious about your Personal Brand – this is an important first step in looking at your Personal Network and understanding what impression you are making.

End of Part One – I’ll be back tomorrow to review Connected and then discuss how these services cross-over and compliment. If you need a reminder to pop back – do subscribe to RSS or Email newsletter on the top right (or follow me on Twitter @personalnetwork)

Mapping your Personal Network – around the world

January 31, 2011 3 comments

There’s been an amazing amount of interest in the new InMaps service from LinkedIn. The great thing about this visual feature is that it has by-passed language barriers and circled the world. If you don’t believe me, just have a quick search on Twitter for InMaps – and you’ll find many people, every hour, sharing their InMaps with the world. See the screengrab below with the tweets in many languages in a 20 minute period on Sunday.

It got me thinking. Is there a way of seeing your contacts geographically in a visual form? With the magic of Google (and a little help from Quora) – these things are never too far away.

My discovery was a Beta software called MapMyConnections. It’s a cool little visualisation software that uses the LinkedIn api. See results below from my test of the system. I think it’s another useful

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way of looking at my Personal Network (although I am a little concerned about the 24 people who seem to be on a boat – or overboard – between Liverpool and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea!)

The application is the work of Jan Willem van Eck. He describes himself on Twitter as “crossculturalist, builds bridges, geo-minded, explorer (strateGIST at Esri Netherlands); social media enthusiast. for the love of geography”. Sounds a great guy – and he seems to have built this in his spare time with limited resources. Take a bow!

Do give MapMyConnections a spin – and please do zoom in to my map and try to explain the 24 connections who seem to be all at sea!

InMaps inventor DJ Patil talks through his LinkedIn map

January 26, 2011 6 comments

InMaps is such an exciting new feature of LinkedIn – it’s occupied my thinking on Personal Networks for the last couple of days since writing my original post on the subject. DJ Patil is the Chief Scientist at LinkedIn – and seems to have been in charge of driving this project. Watch this video to see him explaining his network (and those of a couple of others) – with the advantage of a very large piece of paper!

It’s fascinating to see that this rich map has been algorithmically defined on connections – and does not use the

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metadata (often inconsistent) input by LinkedIn users.

Over at Flowdata (the very best place to find updates on visualisation) – DJ took time to comment on the blog post by Nathan Yau (Flowdata’s founder). He said:

One thing that we should note about the calculation is that this only uses the “graph” of connections. We don’t use any other information. I think that is one of the very powerful aspects of this visualization. For example, in my case, it identifies my wife’s networks, students, people I went to grad school with, etc. Additionally there are a couple of reasons why this was a challenge. A) Getting everything to work in the browser in a smooth way from small networks (come on Nathan you need to add some connections :-)) to larger networks. B) The ability to “process” as many user’s networks as they use the site. There are over 85M users and that requires some serious processing power. We’ll do a more extensive write up when we can and I can say I was surprised by how much compute power we had to apply to make this real.

DJ’s key points are that the “groups” of different colours are formed by connections. He also discussed the challenges of implementing this sort of visualisation to the huge LinkedIn following. Would be interested to see how the servers have performed the last couple of days.

Well done DJ – this is certainly a real help to my research on Personal Networks.

LinkedIn’s new visualisation tool – InMaps

January 25, 2011 1 comment

LinkedIn have just launched a new tool to create a visual map of your connections – InMaps. It’s a very interesting tool – and is an important step towards understanding your Personal Network.

I was surprised at how in certain areas of my network, the system was able to colour code by groups. In fact, some of it was a bit “spooky” and gave me a feeling that Big Brother was watching. You can see why these powerful network visualisation tools have been used

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by security forces to check terrorist connections (none in my network – I hope!). However, in places, it was not easy to work out what the common thread of the colours were – as you can see from the incomplete key on the screen grab above.

It’s a newly launched service – but already seems to have rich features. For example, you can click on any connection – and see who they are connected to in your network.

The system is polarised by just being an overview of LinkedIn connections. I recently did an audit of my contacts – and I’d only connected to 11% of them in LinkedIn (with 71% of them being Weak Ties). I am sure this might be different for others – but I am sure it is always an incomplete picture. See my earlier post – Are the people you REALLY want to know social networking?

Anyway, if you are a LinkedIn user, I would encourage you to have a play. Go to http://inmaps.linkedinlabs.com/. Check out the video below for an overview from DJ Patil, Chief Scientist at LinkedIn.

>You can now get more info in my second post about InMaps – including video of DJ Patil giving further explanation of his network and development of InMaps.

WANTED – Chief Visualisation Officer … be the world’s first!

October 26, 2010 3 comments

In between blogging (and life) I’m trying to create the team for our new business, VizWho. Despite having been a successful photo-journalist – I can’t say I’m really a designer/artist/creative … but I know when I see something I really like.

The challenge for the new business is to visualise the Personal Networks of our clients – we can’t be VizWho without

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the VIZ!! Even at the early research stage this is proving a challenge.

So I am looking for a CVO (Chief Visualisation Officer) who can:-

* Visualise Data as well as Jesse Thomas at JESS3 Labs
* Be as good an explainer as Lee Le Fever at Common Craft
* Have a sense of humour like Matthew Inman at the Oatmeal
* Ping Edges & Nodes like the Visual Thesaurus
* Draw Mind Maps like Paul Foreman
* Create Many Eyes visualisations like Fernanda B. Viégas
* Understand personal brands like Ken Silvia does for Tom Peters

Please do get in contact with me – phil@vizwho.com. As you will see from the list, I am not asking a lot – and because we’re a startup, we can’t pay a lot …. but you would be the World’s First Chief Visualisation Officer***

*** Well – actually, I did find a couple of Chief Visualization Officers on LinkedIn in the US (but there is a Z in there – and our company is in the UK so we are the first with an S!). Also, I do need to give credit to Andrea Saveri of the Institute for the Future – who presented the idea of a CVO in June 2008.

Typical – the google search proves that there are no new ideas under the sun…..

Visualising your Personal Network

October 9, 2010 2 comments

If you’ve read this blog from the start – you will know that one of the challenges that I have set myself is finding a way to visualise your Personal Network. The name of the business that I intend to launch next year – VizWho – gives a clue to its aims (Visualising Who you know).

The starting point for some of this thinking was the discovery of the Visual Thesaurus (produced by a company called ThinkMap) – our CTO, Dan, pointed it out to me. It’s a cool, interactive product that explores the “network”

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of relationships between words – and I thought it would be great if your Personal Network could be explored the same way.

We’ve just started our research stage – involving getting 6 case studies together based around diverse individuals. In the research we help to organise their Personal Network in a visual way. Initial findings are very positive – more soon….

I did come across another great visualisation relevant to Personal Networks. This work has been undertaken by Jesse Thomas of the JESS3 Labs in Washington DC. JESS3 Labs is a creative agency that specialises in data visualization (sorry – you’ll have to get used to the change in “s” and “z” as we cross the Atlantic!). See below:-

This illustrates that out of the world population (and specifically the mobile phone using element) – the level of Twittering, Facebooking and LinkedIn-ing is relatively small. In my initial research on Personal Networks – I am finding similar patterns at the “me” level. A person does know some contacts through the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – but these are a very small percentage compared to their “real” Personal Network.

It’s a great bit of research – and the illustration above is just one example of how the data has been illustrated. Explore some more visualisations by Jesse at JESS3 Labs.

Would be interested if you can point me in the direction of other visual illustrations relevant to Personal Networks.

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