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Samaritans Radar scans tweets for signs of suicidal intentions

29 Oct 2014

samaritans-4

Social networks are a hubbub of digital noise and chatter, with people posting everything from casual opinions and updates on their breakfast, to breaking news and heated arguments.

Many companies and brands sweep these social platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to glean information about potential customers in a bid to better target services and products.

But few would ever think of using that social data as a means of suicide prevention. However, the Samaritans charity has revealed a new website dubbed Samaritans Radar which scans and flags "potentially worrying tweets" to a Twitter user once they register their account.

Developed in partnership with digital agency Jam, the service will email registered users with details of tweets from people they follow that contain phrases such as 'tired of being alone', 'hate myself', and 'depressed', which potentially indicate a risk of suicide.

The email will also contain advice from Samaritans on how Twitter users can support their friends  and the people they follow, who may be harbouring suicidal thoughts.

The charity acknowledges that the algorithm will take some tuning to filter out sarcasm and dark jokes: "Samaritans Radar is in its infancy and won't get it right every time. But there's a way for you to give feedback on whether a Samaritans Radar alert was correct, so the service improves for everyone as it learns more."

Samaritans stressed that the Radar will send alerts to Twitter users only by email and will not encroach on their or other users' experiences, nor will it ever post from a registered user account.

While it is not unusual for people to go online for support, the process of applying algorithms to a situation that is open to interpretation and context may seem like a way of dehumanising the provision of personal support - in part digitising empathy.

But with 15 million Twitter users in the UK, Radar could provide an online safety net that has until now been notable by its absence. In turn, Radar could help people take a more active role in giving support to others in a way that has traditionally been the domain of specialist charities.

While Samaritans Radar could be seen as a pseudo nanny state service, it is another example of digital technology that could yield life-saving results.

Queen sends first Twitter message at Science Museum tech gallery opening

24 Oct 2014

Rugby Tuning Coil in the Information Gallery

The Queen has posted her first message on Twitter, in honour of the opening of the new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum that celebrates the role of network technology in changing the world forever.

The £15.6m gallery was opened by Her Majesty on Friday 25 October, and the historic occasion was marked by a 140-character missive on the site.

No doubt Liz was impressed by the wonderful array of objects on display at the new gallery, as the curators at the museum have excelled themselves in tracking down and securing some notable items from tech history.

This includes the magnificent Rugby Turning Coil that takes pride of place in the centre of the new gallery (pictured above), as well as the computer used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at Cern where he invented the concept for the web (shown below).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee computer where he invented the web

Another impressive object on display is a Russian BESM-6 supercomputer that was used during the Cold War, the only such machine on display in a museum in the West (below).

Russian supercomputer on display at the Science Museum

The gallery isn't just dominated by large, history-making objects, however, and includes smaller items that show just how fast technology has evolved. Even landline telephones, still in use in many households, have now taken on the air of relics, as the below exhibits demonstrate.

Landline phones are now museum relics

The Snoopy Phone, in particular, is a reminder that people have always enjoyed trying to demonstrate their personalities through their phones, not just smartphones.

Other objects on display include the original galvanometer used to receive the first telegraph messages sent across the Atlantic between President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria in 1858, and the original Marconi radio transmitter that made the first public broadcast in 1922.

V3 was lucky enough to have a preview of the exhibition, and the pictures we snapped represent just a fraction of the 800 or so items on display in the new space. Anyone with even a cursory interest in technology history, or looking to inspire young enquiring minds, should find plenty to enjoy.

The new gallery is open from Saturday 25 October and is free of charge.

Germany breaks Brazilian hearts and Twitter records to boot

09 Jul 2014

While Germany’s stupefying 7-1 destruction of Brazil in the World Cup semi-final in their own back yard sent footballing records tumbling, it also helped break two fairly notable Twitter records, which show how big the social network has now become.

As users around the world watched agog as the goals flew in, Twitter exploded. A truly staggering 35.6 million tweets about the company were posted, making it the single most discussed sporting event of all time on the platform.

This easily beat the 24.9m tweets sent about the Super Bowl earlier in 2014. Not only that, but the moment the fifth goal nestled in the back of the net Twitter exploded once again, helping smash the tweet per minute (TPM) record with more than half a million posts.

As the Guardian notes this is by far and away the largest ever number of tweets about one event to be sent in a minute, surpassing numerous events such as Usain Bolt's gold-medal 200m sprint peaked at 80,000 tweets per minute, and Beyoncé's Super Bowl half-time show in 2013 at 268,000 tweets per minute.

A real-time map of messages on Twitter as they were posted also gives some indication of where in the world the result left the biggest impact: unsurprisingly Brazilians were rather vocal about the result.

Twitter silences the witterers with Mute button

13 May 2014

Man with fingers in ears

Social network Twitter is offering its users a mute button that they can employ to filter out annoying people for a limited time, without having to unfollow them.

First to get the feature will be iPhone, Android and Twitter for Web users, who will now be able to silence tiresome users who perhaps post updates just a little too often.

"Today we're beginning to introduce a new account feature called mute to people who use our iPhone and Android apps and twitter.com. Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user's content from key parts of your Twitter experience," it said in a blogpost.

"In the same way you can turn on device notifications so you never miss a Tweet from your favorite users, you can now mute users you'd like to hear from less. Muting a user on Twitter means their Tweets and Retweets will no longer be visible in your home timeline, and you will no longer receive push or SMS notifications from that user."

The system sounds a lot like a block on another user, but one that will not apparently insult or offend the blocked person.

"The muted user will still be able to fave, reply to, and retweet your Tweets; you just won't see any of that activity in your timeline," added the firm. "The muted user will not know that you've muted them, and of course you can unmute at any time."

The feature will be rolled out to all users in the coming weeks, according to Twitter.

With the World Cup just around the corner those who follows avid football fans could find it a major blessing to help avoid endless tweets about how games are unfolding, or those tweeting manically about the final of Britain's Got Talent, without offending friends or colleagues.

NSA gets cryptic with coded job ad in Twitter post

06 May 2014

magnifying-glass

The US National Security Agency (NSA) posted an intriguing message on its Twitter account over the weekend, in a novel way to appeal to those who have an aptitude for cracking codes and ciphers.

Usually the NSA's careers Twitter account posts up short, bland opportunities for applications, but this one is very different.

It is very obviously a cipher, and looks a lot like one that uses substituted letters. The question mark is something of a clue and suggests that the NSA is happy to leave such hints.

There are various ways and means of cracking substitution ciphers and one of them is to start with the letter E - the most commonly used of English letter characters, and work back from that.

You can do this manually, automatically or in your browser using Javascript. The end result should be the same, the time spent working on the solution may differ radically though.

We can confirm that the advert is not actually a job ad, but is more of a knowing wink in the direction of people that like codes and ciphers, want a job with the NSA, and are not Edward Snowden. You can see the solution to the NSA code puzzle in this YouTube video.

Last year the UK agency GCHQ carried out a similar experiment to help it in its search for the next Alan Turing. At the time GCHQ's head of resourcing, Jane Jones, said that modern threats require new ways of finding talented people to help crack complex codes.

"We want employees who have evolved with the ever-changing digital world and therefore have the right skills to combat these challenges," she said at the time. "It's a puzzle but it's also a serious test - the jobs on offer here are vital to protecting national security."

Twitter turns eight: First tweets from the great and good of the tech world

21 Mar 2014

 Twitter

It is now eight years since the world was given the ability to share what was on its mind in 140-character snippets. Since then world leaders, pop stars, sporting heroes and top tech talents have all joined the bandwagon.

To celebrate eight years of success Twitter has created a nifty tool to help you easily find your first ever post on the site. V3 thought it would be fun to use the site to find out what some of the tech luminaries had to say for themselves. Some are more inspiring than others.

Bill Gates was snappy and to the point.

Oracle's Larry Ellison was his usual bullish self.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was late to the party and in typical business mode.

Security hero Eugene Kaspersky set about offering pearls of wisdom on staying safe online.

We're not sure what was going on when Sir Tim Berners-Lee first posted, but as he invented the web, we'll forgive him.

We here at V3 can't criticise too much, though, as our first effort was hardly the stuff of legend. Still, we like to think we've got a little better since then.

Our favourite, though, is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who kicked-off with a message about dancing and has never looked back.

Happy birthday Twitter. Here's to the next eight years.

Twitter 'lie detector' aims to catch out malicious rumour-mongers

21 Feb 2014

Twitter

A new "lie detector" for Twitter is currently in development, and while the prospect of knowing whether your colleagues really enjoyed the delightfully Instagrammed salad may seem exciting, its true benefits could actually solve one of the biggest problems public social media platforms cause society: malicious untruths.

In the 2011 London riots, for example, rumours began to spread of tigers having escaped from London Zoo causing an uncomfortable mix of confusion, terror and humour. Could a machine-based lie detector, analysing language and context, have saved us from this bizarre state of affairs? According to the University of Sheffield's Kalina Bontcheva, lead researcher on project PHEME: perhaps.

There are four categories of tweets that misinform people, according to the project team:

  • Speculation – such as financial guesswork
  • Controversy – unproven accusations
  • Misinformation – accidental untruths
  • Disinformation – malicious untruths

The technology would take into account a number of tweet characteristics, including the authority of the user and their history on the site. A well-respected, verified journalist would be more authoritative than a brand new account which is spamming scandalous political rumours, for example.

There is no word on whether the analysis extends to metadata such as the location from which the tweet was sent, and the researchers currently have no plans to include media such as images in the analysis, which often form a key part of corroborating or dispelling rumours.

The results of searches looking at current events would then display on a "visual dashboard" to let the user know whether a rumour was likely to be true or not.

It's an interesting project which is expected to take three years to come to fruition. It would be reasonable to expect Twitter is doing exactly the same thing as it looks to serve one of its most active userbases: journalists and organisations like emergency services and charities.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who promises to tweet the twuth, the whole twuth and nothing but the twuth.

Twitter dabbles in e-commerce

03 Feb 2014

Twitter IPO

Twitter appears to be looking at some new revenue streams that could see users buying products using buttons embedded in Tweets.

The potential new product, reported by Recode, appears in the form of designs pitched by online retailer Fancy. It shows a button embedded in a Tweet that advertises a product. While nobody from Twitter or Fancy has acknowledged the images, it suggests a sensible exploration of other revenue streams from Twitter, which makes a large part of its cash from advertising.

By introducing the sale of physical goods into tweets themselves, Twitter is looking at an area of social media-based retail that has been explored before. Facebook tried, tested and eventually mothballed its own attempts to sell products on its site, instead concentrating on cashing in on smileys and virtual coins.

But Twitter is fundamentally different from Facebook. Its advertising model allows businesses to buy into certain keywords and trends, making adverts that are hyper relevant but only last for a few seconds. With this new model, a business could conceivably use the #CoronationStreet hashtag to promote an item currently being featured in the advert break, for example.

One potential problem for Twitter, however, will be savvy consumers. While this system may be great for unique, hand-crafted items that can only be bought from a particular niche site, if firms attempt to advertise products that are more widely available, consumers will probably do a quick search to find the best price available and bypass Twitter entirely.

Nonetheless, investors will undoubtedly welcome speculation that Twitter is looking to create a new revenue stream as it tries to work its way out of the red.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who would sell his soul for a few more followers

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