Archive for 21/01/2012

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland launches 2012 awards programme

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has launched its 2012 awards programme – which will see three winners receiving €200,000 each in support – with a call for applications from individuals who are developing new, big ideas to address the social and environmental challenges currently being faced in Ireland.

The awards are sponsored by DCC and will be presented in October, when three social entrepreneurs will share €600,000 in funding and support to help them grow and scale their impact.

The awards will also support a further five individuals to the value of €35,000 each under the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland ‘Elevator Programme’.

The call for applications is the start of an extensive eight-month consultation and engagement process. The closing date for applications is Thursday 16 February. The selection process will include a ‘Bootcamp’ in March where shortlisted candidates will be invited to pitch their projects, leading to interviews from which eight finalists will be chosen.

The finalists will then take part in a three-month finalists programme, during which they will receive some funding and support prior to final selection of the 2012 award winners in October.

Since 2005, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has provided support to 150 social entrepreneurs, directly investing over €4m into funding these individuals. According to the organisation, these in turn have directly impacted over 170,000 people and created over 800 employment opportunities.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s programme, 2011 award winner Michael Kelly from GIY Ireland said the support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has been a game-changer for his organisation.  “I’ve always felt that being involved with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland is like having access to the mothership of all motherships,” he said. “The Impact Programme challenges me at every turn, makes me work smarter and think bigger.  It inspires, rewards and connects us up with an incredible array of leading experts and advisors.”

Kelly set up GIY Ireland in 2009 to transform the nation’s wellbeing, strengthen communities and protect the environment by helping people to grow their own food.

Last year’s winners also included former Amnesty Ireland director Seán Love for creative writing centre Fighting Words, which he devised together with writer Roddy Doyle. In just over two years, using over 400 volunteers, the centre has hosted more than 26,000 students of all ages in workshops in fiction writing, film-making, song writing and graphic novels.

Niamh Gallagher and Michelle O’Donnell Keating were also awarded €200,000 for Women for Election, which inspires and equips women to succeed in politics in order to bring balance to Irish political representation.

“In previous years we have been overwhelmed by the calibre of applications we have received, and we expect 2012 to reveal even better applicants,” said Seán Coughlan, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland chief executive.

“The main criteria is a passion for making a difference, thinking big and using business skills for social change. We really believe that together we can change Ireland and the impact of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland over the past seven years has proved that.”

Applications for the 2012 Awards Programme must be made online at www.socialentrepreneurs.ie, where full details on the application process, eligibility criteria and the Awards Programme are available.

I know many people keep an eye on Google Plus ‘s growth. Since it is a giant  technology company, our expectations  for its growth can change due to Google ‘s other products success. Chitika Insights has covered the heavily publicized launch of Google+ amidst a variety of reported statistics, some which stated that Google+ hosted a user base comprised of over 40 Million people, others which described the fledgling social network as nothing more than a ghost town. Initially, traffic on Google+ saw a rapid rate of growth, but was accompanied by a period of significant decline. Since then, Chitika Insights has been regularly keeping tabs on the condition of Google+, in order to determine the relative success of the social network.

Between the months of September to November, Google+ saw a 118% increase in overall online activity. From September to October Google+ posted the biggest growth figures (55%), followed by a growth in online activity of 41% between October and November, as seen in the graph below.

The graph above shows activity index for Google+ between September 2011 and November 2011. The highest level of activity observed receives a value of 100, and the other data points are simply a function thereof. The arrows represent the percentage increase in activity witnessed between month to month data sets, all of which were sampled in the second week of each respective month. Chitika used a referrer distribution methodology to conduct this report. For more on the methodology see:

http://insights.chitika.com/2011/our-referrer-distribution-methodology-a-chitika-special-report/

This level of growth may be supported by several key factors:

  • Google has been successfully integrating Google+ across its wide range of services (Android, Google Apps, Search)
  • Google has been heavily advertising Google+ across different channels including television spots and online placements, hoping to connect with a main-stream audience
  • Google has remained dedicated to increasing the functionality and accessibility of Google+ to the public and has plans for rapid releases of new features over the course of 2012

New reports suggest there are an estimated 62 million users on the social network, and our traffic index indicates a clear rise in activity as well. However, because Google holds raw data proprietary, they will be the only source to tell us if the activity is based on active users or new user sign ups

The way we do business is changing fast and in order to keep up, your entire mentality about work has to change just as quickly. Unfortunately, most people aren’t adapting fast enough to this change in the workplace, says marketing guru Seth Godin in an interview with the Canadian talk show “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight” (via Pragmatic Capitalism).

According to the founder of Squidoo.com and author or 13 books, the current “recession is a forever recession” because it’s the end of the industrial age, which also means the end of the average worker.

“For 80 years, you got a job, you did what you were told and you retired,” says the former vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo! People are raised on this idea that if they pay their taxes and do what they’re told, there’s some kind of safety net, or pension plan that’s waiting for them. But the days when people were able to get above average pay for average work are over.

If you’re the average person out there doing average work, there’s going to be someone else out there doing the exact same thing as you, but cheaper. Now that the industrial economy is over, you should forget about doing things just because it’s assigned to you, or “never mind the race to the top, you’ll be racing to the bottom.”

However, if you’re different somehow and have made yourself unique, people will find you and pay you more, Godin says.

Instead of waiting around for someone to tell you that you matter, take your career into your own hands. In other words, don’t wait for someone else to pick you and pick yourself! If you have a book, you don’t need a publisher to approve you, you can publish it yourself. It’s no longer about waiting for some big corporation to choose you. We’ve arrived at an age where you choose yourself.

Facebook’s 27-year-old founder, Mark Zuckerberg, isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Ben Bernanke, the  58-year-old head of the Federal Reserve. But Facebook’s early adventures in the money-creating business are going well enough that the central bank comparison gets tempting.

Everything started quietly, in 2009, with the experimental launch of Facebook Credits, billed as “the safe and easy way to buy things on Facebook.” Anyone who chipped in $5 from a Paypal account, Visa card or the like, could do the equivalent of changing money on an overseas trip. Voila! — $5 turned into 50 Facebook Credits.

Initially, the Credits-based economy was confined to the virtual world’s trifles. Credits could be spent to buy imaginary gold bars for aficionados of Mafia Wars, or bouquets of virtual flowers for birthday postings on friends’ Facebook accounts. This new form of digital money was cute but essentially useless for mainstream activities.

Vogel has a personal interest in seeing Credits take off. He is co-founder of Plink, a customer-loyalty program in which people earn Facebook Credits by eating at participating restaurants.  Plink is just getting started, and no one knows yet how much traction his company ultimately will enjoy. But such uncertainties can’t stifle Vogel’s ebullience. He predicts that the Facebook Credits economy could double every year for the next five years.
 
 Already, Credits looks very rewarding for Facebook, thanks to built-in commissions or transactions fees. Merchants participating in the Credits economy receive 70 cents of every dollar spent on their wares; the other 30% goes to Facebook. That’s in line with the way that Apple Inc. runs its iTunes store. It’s far more lucrative than the 2% to 5% fees associated with credit cards or currency-exchange counters in the traditional economy.

Facebook won’t say how much it’s making from Credits, but the research firm of eMarketer offered up a widely quoted estimate in September. Its tally: $470 million of revenue in 2011, or about 11% of Facebook’s total business. Costs associated with the Credits program are likely to be trivial. So while advertising remains Facebook’s dominant source of revenue, banking looks like an alluring second way of making money — literally.

Edward Castronova, a telecommunications professor at Indiana University, is fascinated by the rise of what he calls “wildcat currencies,” such as Facebook Credits. He has been studying the economics of online games and virtual worlds for the better part of a decade. Right now, he calculates, the Facebook Credits ecosystem can’t be any bigger than Barbados’s economy and might be significantly smaller. If the definition of digital goods keeps widening, though, he says, “this could be the start of something big.”

In the short term, Facebook may choose to move cautiously with its Credits-based economy. Company executives are likely to have their hands full the next few months, trying to manage a successful initial public offering of stock. Moving too aggressively into banking could invite more government regulation than Facebook wants.

Still, Facebook’s buildup of Credits suggests more than just a minor dalliance. Facebook already takes payment for Credits in more than 40 currencies — ranging from the euro to the Vietnamese dong. Exchange rates are adjusted daily.  It probably won’t be long until some economist tries to calculate the inflation rate, money-supply velocity or other traditional dimensions of the Facebook economy.

If Facebook at some point is willing to reduce its cut of each Credits transaction, this new form of online liquidity may catch the eye of many more merchants and customers. As Castronova observes: “there’s a dynamic here that the Federal Reserve ought to look at.”

Linkbait

Generating links of any significant value has become increasingly difficult over the last few years, with so much focus on backlinks remaining a solid ranking factor in search engine algorithms still, it results in billions of mass produced spam links every day and more and more online communities, blogs and forums are tightening up the prevention of spam by introducing plugins, stripping tags and really limiting the opportunities that contributors can obtain a link back from the site – the reality is, unless you’re a large brand with an equally large customer base already for email marketing and an equally large social media following to continually push your products/services to, the likelihood of naturally acquiring backlinks for a small to medium sized business is going to prove difficult.

More and more emphasis will be placed on coming up with innovative and creative ways to generate links naturally further still in 2012, and whilst links remain to be a strong ranking factor in search, with many businesses in the same sector competing for the top positions, and Google making further progress in improving their algorithm and combat against spam – those that will really stand out from the rest will be those that have the ability to create genuine, unique, quality and naturally linkworthy content.
Social Weight & Signals

With social signals now affecting ranking in search engines towards the end of 2011, it can only be expected to see these play more of a role in ranking sites throughout 2012. Already, there are companies selling hundreds of ‘Likes’, ‘ReTweets’ and ‘+1s’ however in a bid to manipulate search engines into thinking that these pages are authoritative and trustworthy so it will be interesting to see how the likes of Google tackles this later in the year.

If you have a business presence online and you haven’t got to grips with social media yet, now is the time to do so if you want your customers to find you online. We may even begin to see the power of links decline whilst the power of social rises when ranking web pages fairly online during 2012.
Rich Snippet Markup

The implementation of rich snippet markup on websites using scheme.org microdata has grown significantly during 2011. What this does, is display more relevant information in search engine results against listings for certain types of content, such as events, reviews and authorship. Whilst the implementation of rich snippet markup does not currently bear any direct affect on the ranking of pages, it is likely only a matter of time before this is factored in to Google’s algorithm.

Using rich snippet markup on your website tells search engines much more about your content, this allows them to make a better judgement on whether your content is more suitable for any given search query. The more information you provide and the more relevant your content appears to be to a search engine, the chances are, that in time, your content will be favoured over competitors – via any means possible.
Google+

Whilst Google still hold the vast majority of search engine market share, it is essential for any website to predominantly focus on ranking well on their search engine(s) and doing anything possible to influence the chances. Welcome Google Plus.

Whilst not frequently used by the mainstream outside of the tech/digital sphere, Google are frequently stepping up their efforts to combine their search platform with their social platform. This includes the public ‘voting’ of web pages on the web via the use of a +1 button – you would be a fool not to utilise Google+ and ensure that you are doing everything you can to encourage the social interaction and sharing of your content via Google+ as it is the perfect leverage for Google to use their own social platform as a direct social signal (one of many) for ranking web pages plus allows them to incentivise the entire web to use Google+ in a bid for Google to compete with Facebook on the social front.
More Creative and Inspiring Ideas

As with anything on the web, it’s only a matter of time before an idea is exploited, over-killed and eventually abused until the method is devalued / frowned upon by many. 2011 was the year of guest blogging and infographics, both methods of link building / link baiting have undergone considerable attention from the masses – both of which appear to be reducing in quality from month to month.

2012 will no doubt see a new idea, a new way of creating buzz around a topic. It might be a new social media website, it may be a tool/app, it may be the next evolved step from guest blogging and infographics to build links… But whatever it is, it will happen, it will arrive and it will become the next ‘big’ thing… At least for a short period of time on the web.

A team at the University of Cambridge, led by IEEE Fellow Arokia Nathan, is working toward a simple goal: a mobile phone that requires charging less often. At the Materials Research Society’s fall meeting in Boston, Arman Ahnood, a researcher on that team,  told scientists that eventually, we might see a phone that never needs to be plugged in.
 

 To extend the time between charges, Nathan’s group built a prototype device that converts ambient light into electricity using an array of  solar cells made of thin-film hydrogenated amorphous silicon that’s designed to sit within the phone’s screen. The photovoltaic (PV) cell takes advantage of the smartphone display’s large footprint. In a typical organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, only about 36 percent of the light generated is projected out of the front of the screen, says Ahnood. Much of it escapes at the edges of the OLED, where it is useless. So Nathan and his collaborators at his Canadian firm IGNIS Innovation set out to harness this wasted light by putting thin-film PV cells around the display’s edges as well.

 Making the device work required sidestepping another problem: fluctuations in the voltage provided by the solar cell, which could have damaged the phone’s battery. The researchers, who were based at University College London until recently, designed a thin-film transistor circuit to smooth out voltage spikes and extract electricity more efficiently.

 And instead of charging the battery directly, which would have involved adding complex circuitry, they worked with the energy group at Cambridge’s Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics to integrate a thin-film supercapacitor for intermediate energy storage. This combination of photovoltaics, transistors, and supercapacitor yielded a system with an average efficiency of 11 percent and peak efficiency of 18 percent. If the PV array converts 5 percent of ambient light to electricity, the energy-harvesting system can generate as much as 165 microwatts per square centimeter under the right lighting conditions. For a typical 3.7-inch smartphone screen, that equates to a maximum power output of 5 milliwatts, “which is quite useful power,” says Ahnood, though that’s only a fraction of a smartphone’s power needs.

 There are existing CMOS-based switch mode voltage regulators that offer higher efficiency, says Ahnood, but they aren’t compatible with the thin-film technology used in smartphone displays. Furthermore, the team’s thin-film devices can be fabricated at temperatures below 150 °C on lightweight plastic, making them much more attractive for use in mobile phones, where every gram and every penny is a big deal.

 The cellular handset prototype is just one example of such small-scale wireless energy harvesting. Another plug-free power source might be magnetic resonance coupling via an induction coil. Alternating current is run through a coil of conductive material, generating an oscillating magnetic field. That field, in turn, generates a current in a coil embedded in, say, a phone or an MP3 player.

 Jun Yu, a doctoral student of Nathan’s, reported preliminary work along those lines at the MRS meeting. He told scientists that the team had designed a flat thin-film coil that could be used as a receiver in a display. But the team doesn’t foresee the coil producing enough power to run an entire computer. It should, however, be possible to scale down the magnetic coupling scheme for use in mobile devices.

 It will take quite a bit more research to get from prototype to consumer product. For example, the team is exploring different circuit designs and materials with the aim of increasing the energy harvesting system’s efficiency.