The Power of the Hashtag
Something that Twitter does well is the #hashtag, and amongst other things it enables Twitter to become the social network when it comes to realtime events. Hashtags, for those who don’t know, are a way of grouping messages together by pre-pending them them with a hash (#) symbol. In a world of a huge amount of short messages, hashtags are a very useful way to navigate your way through all of that data. Despite other social networks such as Facebook and Google+ following suit with hashtags, it’s Twitter that’s known for them and when hashtags are used in a setting outside of a social network it’s assumed that everyone’s referring to Twitter. I was given a stat this week that tweets on Twitter only have a lifetime of six minutes and perhaps this is why the platform is so well suited to realtime events.
Increasingly users of social networks have been using Twitter’s hashtags to “enhance” (as I imagine TV marketing executives term it) television viewing. At just about any point in time, a list of trending topics on Twitter includes what’s popular at that moment on TV.
Back in 2010, BBC’s ‘Have I Got News For You’ started showing a hashtag before the show began
The Hashtag Arms Race
Facebook now wants in on this lead that Twitter have and, in an attempt to take the title for themselves, have announced that they’re stepping up their efforts by allowing mobile apps to recognise the TV or radio show you’re tuned into. The idea being that it will help Facebook users to post statuses by already recognising what they’re engaged with and adding that information to the post before the Facebook poster needs to.
Facebook can listen in on your environment (TV, etc) and post about it to link up with other viewers / listeners http://t.co/l3AD9nSNAa
— Alex Cooper (@AlexPCooper) May 23, 2014
Facebook Listening In on Me?
The security implications, assuming that Facebook are telling the truth and don’t alter their approach in the future, are minimised as this functionality will be fully controlled by the end user. They will turn it on and off, and by default the social network won’t be listening in 0n everything you do. Interestingly, Facebook have obviously felt the need to emphasise this point.
How Are They Going to Do This?
The Facebook apps for mobile devices (phones and tablets) will use the built-in microphones on these devices to listen in and recognise what the user’s listening to. This is the bit that fascinates me as it must be quite a feat in order to achieve this. Turning on the microphone is the easy bit; the difficulty probably comes in after that;
- Taking a soundbite of a certain length of time using the microphone as an input
- Uploading it to Facebook’s servers
- Clearing out the background noise of other things happening in the room (people chatting, children playing, etc.)
- Clearing out the inevitable “white noise” between device and TV / radio
- Matching it up with a TV show
This last point, especially, must take a huge amount of data processing. The number of users on Facebook, at the time of their 10th anniversary in February this year, was somewhere around the 1.23 billion (that’s currently active users). Stretched out all over the world means that a lot of TV and radio channels to check against; Sky TV’s basic package in the UK has just short of 300 of them.
Perhaps Facebook can utilise geo-location data to narrow down their search. On the flip side to that saving, though, they’ll also need to take into account the delay from transmission to receiving on a TV, to a Facebook user recording a clip on a Facebook app to Facebook analysing that clip on their systems.
The logistics on this are huge!