Radio Silence Over: Updates, Mahaya, TimeSpace, Moscow

Ayman has been on my case, and for a good reason this time. We kind of neglected you, good readers of our blog. It’s been a long and winding few months years. We both fully intend to write more but for now, here’s a quick update from the Naaman half. And it’s exciting (at least for me).

The quick update, for those who don’t know, is that I have co-founded a company called Mahaya which aims to organize the world’s memories: make sense of the world’s stories and events as they are shared on social media. We are currently beta testing a new product called Seen, which automatically makes it fun and simple to see what happened anywhere. This week, The New York Times announced that Mahaya will be one of the three companies in the inaugural run of the TimeSpace program (whoever named it should receive the Pulitzer).

In related news, next week in Moscow, I will be giving a keynote at ECIR 2013, talking about how the work we have done in the last 8 or so years have informed the vision (and technology) for Mahaya. Here’s the motivation for the talk below. I will try to post the full notes after I give the talk (Ayman, keep me honest here).

Time for Events.

In the last 8 years, my work and research had focused on the ways in which social media reflects and interacts with “the real world” — by which I mean actual occurrences, atoms clashing, people performing acts that are tied to a specific location and, often, to a time.

2005 was the onset of location-based social media as we know it. Flickr got popular (and got acquired by Yahoo). In 2006, Flickr formally introduced geotagging by supporting geo-metadata and providing a map interface; they thus created an easy way for people to associate location data with content, at scale. Almost immediately, we had… lots of dots on on a map! Surely, we thought, these dots can tell us more about the world than where photos were taken. Can they tell us *what* are the most interesting places/landmarks, instead?

Tag Maps was our attempt at Yahoo! Research Berkeley to do that. For any world region, any zoom level, we extracted (using fairly simple IR tools), the most salient and important topics for that area; we built an interactive prototype that exposed this information, a video of which you can find here (see if you can spot Yoda!). We realized (read more here) that one could extract a strong signal about the real world, about people, their geographic activities and interests from social media data.

Tag Maps / World Explorer Demo from Mor on Vimeo.

We then noticed a funny entry on the Paris Tag Map. It read “Les Blogs”; an explanation can be found here: a bunch of bloggers at a conference, posting Flickr photos until our algorithm thought this was the main descriptor for that area (and Paris). In other words, events started showing up on our map. That got us thinking: can we do a better job modeling, identifying and presenting the data that is specifically associated with events?

tagmaps paris

At SIGIR 2007 we showed that the answer is yes. With Tye and Nathan, we described a system that discovers real-world events from Flickr geotagged data, including hyper-local events such as BYOBW (an old favorite for me to show in talks, and an event I literally learned about from our results). The takeaway? social media can reflect real-world events, via content created by a collective of mostly uncoordinated contributors.

After Tahrir square these “discoveries” seem rather obvious, but that was not the case in 2007, before Facebook and Twitter gained any mainstream popularity, and well before iPhone popularized media and location (iPhone 3G was released in July 2008).

In my talk, I am going to address the challenges in developing event technologies, show some of the solutions and technologies we developed in my research, complain that in 2013 that problem is not yet solved commercially (case in point: the link I had to use for BYOBW above), and give a demo of Mahaya’s recent product, Seen, where we start solving the “event problem”. I’ll also talk about social media as the next step in the evolution of information systems, and what it means for Information Retrieval.

Come and say hi if you are in Moscow next week!

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