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Published July 11th 2012

Making Social Media Come to Life

We all know that data is amazing, interesting and even illuminating. Of course, at Brandwatch we love it, but we know that sometimes the data can be hard to get your head around, especially when faced with something as huge as the social web.

Infographics and data visualisations – such as our recent Euro 2012 wormery – go a long way in helping make sense of the numbers. As they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (or numbers, in this case).

For those interested in the mechanics of it, data visualisation is effective because it shifts the balance between perception (i.e. seeing) and cognition (thinking). Perception is handled in a much faster and more efficient cortex of the brain, making visual images much quicker and easier to decipher.

But some are going even further than images and cool visualisations in the quest to make data a more involved experience.

Recent news stories revealed that technology company Mint had developed a ‘robot’ called Olly (short for olfactory) that rewards its owner with a waft of scent whenever they are mentioned on social networks. This allows the user to gauge their online interactions without constantly monitoring feeds and networks, and was designed to be attention grabbing without being overly distracting.

Users can also choose what the scent is, although some of the initial scents tested are questionable (vomit, anyone?) It even allows you to choose different scents for different interactions.

The robot – whilst a novel idea – is unlikely to be used widely, given that it has to be self-built (it’s under a creative commons licence, meaning anyone can make their own), although the makers say that there are a ‘growing number’ in use around the world. It does, however, represent a step towards more multi-sensory and novel ways of understanding your social media impact.

In a similar vein, brand communications agency Uniform have come up with a novel way of rewarding their staff whenever they attract a new Twitter follower. Their labs created a cuckoo clock that dispenses a sweet each time a new follower was achieved, meaning that each new follower resulted in a tangible notification and reward for that gain.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, so having such a strong signal allows the team to acknowledge (and enjoy) their achievements. However, for the sake of their teeth, we hope they don’t get too many followers too quickly.

Sweet Tweet from Uniform on Vimeo.

The makers of Olly have also now created a sweet-dispensing robot that turns your retweets into sweets, named Polly. In effect, these projects, whilst perhaps not viable on a large scale, are taking the first steps into bringing data and social media out into the ‘real’ world, to become a more tangible, interactive or multi-sensory experience, bringing the numbers to life in a way that makes it easier for us to understand.

In a world that revolves around screens –phones, computers, TVs et cetera – this step towards the development of technology that allows us to involve our other senses into our screen-based activities is long-awaited and warmly welcomed. Here at Brandwatch HQ, we’re still holding out for ‘smell-o-vision’, which the BBC tricked the country into believing way back in 1965 in an elaborate April Fool’s hoax. Maybe we’ll get our tech team on the case.

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